Inquirer Daily News
Ovechkin fails to answer for latest collapse


Dan Di Sciullo,
NHL Editor


Dan Di Sciullo Vancouver, BC (Sports Network) - For a guy who's considered to be the greatest hockey player in the world, Alex Ovechkin knows quite a bit about playoff elimination.

The Vancouver Olympics were supposed to be the Russian superstar's chance to shed the tag of playoff underachiever. Sure, he's won gold at the world championship level -- as a junior and a pro -- but that's not the kind of hardware that gets critics in North America to stop taking potshots.

Those detractors were given another reason to doubt Ovie's skills Wednesday night in Vancouver when No. 8 and Team Russia were taken out to the woodshed and bludgeoned by the host Canadians.

Team Canada scored early and often in embarrassing the Russians. Ovechkin's club fell behind 3-0 in the first period and wound up getting laughed out of Canada Hockey Place, losing 7-3 -- the second biggest defeat for the Russians in their storied Olympic history.

Clearly, Ovechkin wasn't the only reason for the Russian collapse -- goaltender Evgeni Nabokov played as big a part as anyone in the defeat -- but his immense talent was certainly why his country was picked as one of the gold medal favorites in this tournament.

For that reason, it was Ovechkin's responsibilty to answer for Team Russia's miserable performance on Wednesday as well as their quarterfinal exit from the Olympic tournament.

And yet, despite the resounding and humbling defeat the Russians were handed in Vancouver, Ovechkin had this, and little else, to say when asked if he believed Canada was a better team than Russia: "No. They were simply better tuned than us."

Really? "Better tuned"?

The Russians were lucky to lose that game by a 7-3 score. It wasn't nearly as close as that.

Alex Ovechkin (right) and the Russians were embarrassed by Candada, 7-3.
Ovechkin added: "Don't judge our team by one game. We are still strong."

Fair enough, we won't judge Team Russia by one game, but the case against Ovechkin as a team leader was building way before the Vancouver Games began.

And I know it's still very early in the 24-year-old's career, but this simple fact remains: When the eyes of the hockey world have been afixed on Ovechkin, he has come up small time and time again.

Ovechkin has transformed Washington, D.C., into a hockey-crazed town by making the Capitals the NHL's most entertaining team to watch. But, at some point even Caps fans, who are generally very protective of their Russian hero, are going to demand a return on their devotion.

The Caps were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs two years ago, abrubtly ending Ovie's first foray into the NHL's second season. They made it just one step further last spring before getting ousted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 2.

Granted, both of those playoff exits came in decisive seventh games, but isn't that even more reason to believe Ovechkin has problems delivering when everything comes down to one contest?

Ovie had no points and just three shots on goal in Wednesday's debacle against Team Canada. He also finished the game with a minus-two rating.

At least he managed a goal when his Capitals were pounded by a 6-2 count in Game 7 last year by the Penguins.

Obviously, winning a Stanley Cup title this spring would be an ideal way for Ovechkin to erase the memory of this Olympic failure, but even a trip to the NHL's final round would be good enough to get critics of his back.

The problem with that is -- and I know Caps fans are not going to want to hear this -- Sidney Crosby and the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins stand in the way.

Crosby may not be as dynamic as Ovechkin on the ice, or as charasmatic off it, but he was the guy left standing last year when their teams met in the playoffs.

Crosby, of course, was also wearing a Team Canada sweater on Wednesday night when a dejected Ovechkin and his compatriots skated off the ice.

Hate to break it to the apologists out there, but Ovie could learn a great deal from Sidney.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Dan Di Sciullo at ddisciullo@sportsnetwork.com.
Dan Di Sciullo