Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin and general manager George McPhee both said they are disappointed in the three-game suspension NHL vice president Brendan Shanahan gave Ovechkin on Monday, but they are more concerned that the 26-year-old star has fallen into the category of repeat offender.
I think that was a factor in the decision, McPhee said, and I dont think it should have been and I made that case yesterday.
When he saw the hit Ovechkin put on Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek on Sunday, McPhee said he Ovechkin might get a fine or a one-game suspension. Now that Ovechkin will miss three games, McPhee and Ovechkin wonder what will happen the next time he throws a questionable check.
The most bad thing is that all of my career is going to be like that, Ovechkin said. My game is to play physical and my game is to play hard and I dont think it was a bad hit. I jumped, but he doesnt get hurt and I dont get two minutes. I dont think it was a three-game suspension.
The target was not the head, it was the body. You can see Michalek goes down when I try to hit him. Unfortunately, Im suspended and hes not. Why hes not suspended is questionable.
McPhee declined to comment on Michalek's not being disciplined for his elbow to the back of Matt Hendricks head shortly after Ovechkins check on him. But he did express concern over how his captain will react when he returns to action Feb. 4 in Montreal.
What we want him to do when he comes back is play the way hes always played, McPhee said. We want him to be relentless. We want him to score goals. We want him to be physical.
Thats when McPhee put on his analytical glasses and gave this dissertation on the way the NHL has responded to head shots.
Unfortunately, our game has changed recently, he said. Where we are with hits in todays game has changed a lot in the last couple years. What once was tolerable and acceptable in our game at all levels is no longer acceptable or tolerable.
Things have changed, and we all have to adjust to it players, coaches, managers. Ovis like a lot of players. Hes trying to adjust to it and its hard. Its a big adjustment.
All these players have played the same way for 20 years growing up. We all grew up doing it. We saw the players before us, and we did the same things they did and now things have changed.
Were certainly supportive of where were going in the league; that certain hits have to be eliminated in the game. Were all for that. But the adjustment is not easy, Weve had a lot of players in the NHL disciplined this year and last year for certain hits.
When you take a player like Ovechkin whos incredibly physical hes in the top 10 in hits every year hes been in the league theyre not all going to go his way, You can intend a good body-on-body hit and sometimes a good hit goes wrong. In this particular case, he left his feet. And what was once for all of us a charging penalty, if head contact results somewhere in that hit, its now a fine or possibly a suspension.
Capitals coach Dale Hunter played in an era when very few body checks went penalized, let alone suspended. He used former Devils defenseman Scott Stevens as an example of a player who made a career out of hitting guys in the head with legal body checks.
Youre not allowed to hit in the head, Hunter said, and thats a tough rule.
Exactly how Ovechkins game will be affected by his third NHL suspension and first in two seasons will be answered when he returns to the ice on Feb. 4. Until then, he will sit and stew over the fact he is missing three of his teams biggest games of the season.
Hockeys a physical game, Ovechkin said. There are always going to be hits in the head and theres always going to be dirty play. If its not dirty I dont think you have to get suspended and miss games, especially ones that are going to be very important for us. We have games against Boston and Tampa and Florida -- two divisional games.