One of the top decision makers for Hockey Canada was at Verizon Center on Thursday night to scout potential Olympians for his country, such as Washington’s Mike Green and San Jose’s Dan Boyle, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton.
What Kevin Lowe saw was a heavy dose of the guys who will be playing for Russia, the top rival to his Canadian club at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Alex Ovechkin scored a pair of goals 28 seconds apart and Alexander Semin added another in a 4-1 victory for the Capitals against the Sharks.
“I feel bad for the other defensemen who have to play against them,” Green said of Ovechkin and Semin. “You give them two seconds with the puck, and their shots are incredible.”
The win helped prevent what could have been the first five-game losing streak of the Bruce Boudreau era, but it did not come without a cost. Starting netminder Jose Theodore left the game after the first period with back spasms and did not return.
Another potential member of the Russian entry in Vancouver, Semyon Varlamov, hadn’t played in nine days since being pulled in Philadelphia, but he stopped 15 shots and still has not lost a regular-season game in regulation.
Ovechkin had never scored against San Jose, his favorite team growing up. After taking eight shots in the first period, he put only two on net in the second but made them both count.
“Alex had a lot of quality shots tonight, but those weren’t the ones that went in,” Green said. “It was the ones where he was driving the net and scored, which is unusual for him. He usually doesn’t drive the net too much, but it is interesting he can score any way.”
The two-time MVP started a two-on-two rush by hustling to a loose puck and then sending a pass to Mike Knuble. After Ovechkin drove to the net, he redirected Knuble’s perfectly placed pass into the net at 2:55 of the middle period.
That goal tied Ovechkin with Semin and two others for the NHL lead, a mantle he would take for himself later in the shift. Twenty-eight seconds after the first goal, Ovechkin banged home a rebound of Knuble’s shot from the right circle for his second of the night and seventh of the season.
Semin put the Caps on the board first with a five-on-three goal 7:21 into the first period. Nicklas Backstrom sent a pass through the crease that Brooks Laich fanned on, but it went to Semin at the bottom of the left circle for a wicked shot from a tough angle.
It was part of a great first period for Semin, who had a goal and five shots on net and drew three penalties. Washington had five power plays in the period to San Jose’s none, but rookie Benn Ferriero’s goal at 14:07 sent the teams to the dressing room tied at 1-1.
“I was a little worried after the first period because when you get that many power plays and it only comes out 1-1, you know something is usually going to happen,” Boudreau said. “I thought we were a really determined group tonight, and when Alex got those two goals it seemed like a surge of confidence in our team.”
The Caps have struggled in the final period in the past five games (outscored 8-4), but they were much better after the second intermission on this night. Matt Bradley added an insurance marker at 5:11 of the third when he put in the rebound of a Milan Jurcina shot from the right point.
“That’s a big goal at that time of the game,” Knuble said. “We’ve probably been a little fragile as a group playing with a lead, so I thought that was huge versus them getting one and making it 3-2.”
Lowe, who is also the president of the Edmonton Oilers, is part of a three-man scouting staff for Hockey Canada, along with Detroit’s Steve Yzerman and former Dallas general manager Doug Armstrong, that is checking out players who could compete for the team in Vancouver in February. Lowe, Armstrong and Detroit general manager Ken Holland will help Yzerman, Team Canada’s executive director, make the final decisions on the 23-man roster.
One of the main reasons Lowe was in the building was to watch Green and Boyle, who are two of the defensemen battling for a spot on Canada’s deep and talented blue line. They are similar players, so it possible that one will make the team but not both.
“You never know when they are going to be watching,” Green said. “They could be watching on TV. I knew they were going to be watching, and I knew somebody was here tonight, but I didn’t know it was Kevin. Hopefully, he was impressed. That’s all I can say.”