Alex Ovechkin wasn’t at his best Wednesday night. A day after not registering a shot in a convincing Washington Capitals victory, there were plenty of pieces of the captain’s game to pick apart in a beat-down at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers.
He sent the puck down the ice from his offensive zone all the way back to goaltender Braden Holtby. He sold a high-sticking call by craning his neck back and flailing to the ice. He skated nonchalantly to the bench as Max Talbot was winding up to score.
Former NHL coach and general manger Mike Milbury missed no opportunity to point out those mistakes during NBC Sports Network’s broadcast. The analyst said Ovechkin “should be ashamed of himself” for how he played in the first two periods against the Flyers.
“When you have great talent, it comes with great expectations and accountability. If you put him up to those two standards tonight, he fails the test miserably,” Milbury said. “That’s just so disheartening to see a player with that kind of talent fall that short in terms of effort.”
Making $9 million this season as the face of the franchise, Ovechkin should not be immune from criticism, and it wasn’t the first time Milbury took aim at the Caps star. But there was much more going wrong for Washington in the 4-1 defeat at Philadelphia than just Ovechkin’s play.
Ovechkin was two games removed from his first hat trick since Jan. 22, 2011, a vintage performance that quieted the concerns about the 27-year-old losing his touch. That monster game Saturday improved his season output to eight goals and seven assists.
And while the Caps seemed to follow their captain and highest-paid player’s lead, right wing Troy Brouwer on Monday bristled at the idea that the team goes as Ovechkin goes.
“He is a very important part of this team; we need him to score to win hockey games,” Brouwer said. “But at the same aspect, guys don’t play depending on how he’s playing. Guys don’t change their game depending on how he’s playing. Guys continue to work hard, guys continue to get pucks deep and finish their checks. It doesn’t matter if Alex is going or not.”
Certainly the Caps get a charge when Ovechkin is scoring and creating chances, but it’s not all on him when things go poorly.
In the aftermath of Wednesday’s loss, Oates pointed to Mathieu Perreault taking a questionable hit from Philadelphia’s Harry Zolnierczyk as an example of what the Caps did wrong.
“Thirty seconds left, the game is over and Matty thought he could stick-handle through the team,” Oates said. “It’s not what we do. All of us tonight, you know, guys are sitting there waiting for you, and you get hit.”
Oates repeated “all of us.” It was impossible to single out any one player for being the worst on the ice or making the most mistakes.
Defenseman Mike Green left the front of the net, allowing Claude Giroux to be open for a goal. Center Mike Ribeiro took an early hooking penalty that paved the way for the second. Right wing Joel Ward took a boarding penalty that led to the third. Holtby should have stopped the fourth.
“A loss is a loss, we still hate it no matter what. Hate it a little bit more; we didn’t play good at all,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “Just got outworked. It definitely seemed like we played the night before. Mentally and physically, [we] just weren’t going. Even when you’re playing good for the entire season, you’re going to have games like this where a team just basically flat-out outplays you.”