- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2007

There was an interesting bit of symbolism in the Washington Capitals locker room Tuesday night.

Alex Ovechkin sat at his locker surrounded by members of the media after the team’s 6-5 shootout loss to Florida. But it wasn’t really his stall.

Sure, the name plate above said Ovechkin and No. 8, but the day before it belonged to good friend and former linemate Dainius Zubrus. The 21-year-old Russian simply had shifted one spot to his right, and he was now in the corner with an empty locker to his left.

“I didn’t sleep today. I talk with Zubie all the time,” Ovechkin said after the game. “He call me after 10 minutes when George [McPhee] called him or whoever called him and said, ‘Ovie I traded, and I go to Buffalo.’ I said to him it was big honor to play with you, and I wish him luck.

“He is great guy and unbelievable center. I will be missing him, but you never know. Maybe next year he will sign with us and it will be the same Ovie and Zubie.”

As for the locker?

“I am sitting in his place now. Sorry Zubie.”

Zubrus has been lauded not only for his play on the ice during the past two seasons but his mentoring of Ovechkin and Alexander Semin away from it. He was an assistant captain, and with captain Chris Clark and unofficial team leader Olie Kolzig out of the lineup with injuries, the Caps go forward with some holes in what is regarded as a strong leadership core.

Ovechkin and Semin are unquestionably the team’s most talented skaters, but at 21 and 22 years old they are not really expected to be leaders. What they did on the ice Tuesday night did provide a glimpse of their ability to lead by example.

They combined to play more than 51 minutes. Semin registered four shots, though he was stopped on a breakaway by Panthers goaltender Ed Belfour. The big surprise though was the way Semin threw his 200-pound frame around, whether it was checking foes into the boards or fighting for pucks in the corner.

After an 11-game slump, Ovechkin broke out in grand fashion. He dominated play in the offensive end, tying a career high with four points and creating several scoring chances for himself and his rotating linemates.

“Maybe a guy like the two Alexanders said, ‘Well, Zubie is gone, and there is room there for someone to take charge of this hockey team,’ ” Caps coach Glen Hanlon said. “I thought they both played extremely well.”

Added Ovechkin: “I feel like Coach trusts me. I feel like team trusts me. This is moment somebody has to take game into his hands. We lost great guys, but we must try to not to think about it. Just go to the ice and play for team and try to win all the battles.”

With the Caps short-handed against the Panthers, Hanlon used many line permutations. One included the two Russian phenoms together with center Brooks Laich. Ovechkin and Semin have played together on the power play but rarely see the ice as a pair at even strength.

“[Semin] is good player and has tremendous skill,” Ovechkin said. “We know how we play together. We love to play together because we are Russians and we know our style.”

Newcomer Jiri Novotny practiced with the team yesterday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, so Hanlon had a full complement of forwards. He centered a line with Laich and Tomas Fleischmann.

Ovechkin and Semin? They were together again, this time with Kris Beech in the middle.

“They did some good things. Hopefully they can do it again,” Hanlon said. “I think for the rest of the year we are going to make it a little more difficult for the other teams and for the reporters to see what the lines are — a lot of mixing and matching.

“We’re sort of almost managing minutes as opposed to just playing. The one line [Boyd Gordon, Matt Bradley and Matt Pettinger] will likely stay together and try to shut down the other team’s top lines, and after that we will just keep moving things around.”


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