Remember the Eastern Conference Semifinals last year when Alexander Ovechkin kneed Sergei Gonchar, got a two-minute tripping penalty even though Gonchar was injured, missed two games and never appeared 100% the rest of the Playoffs, and nearly every announcer — Pittsburgh and Washington alike, and even the highly biased author of this blog — argued that Ovechkin probably had the hit lined up, stuck his leg out as a last-second thoughtless reaction, and had no intention of actually kneeing Gonchar and injuring him?
Guess what? We were wrong. Turns out, Ovechkin actually is a big fan of the knee-to-knee hit, and he pulled off another stellar one last night on Carolina’s Tim Gleason, earning himself a 5-minute major penalty and his SECOND game misconduct in three games, and karmically injuring himself in the process:
If you’re keeping score at home, that’s three suspension-worthy hits by Ovechkin in a span of less than 30 games, going back to last year’s playoffs. It’s now not even debatable anymore: Alex Ovechkin is, by any possible definition, a deliberate cheap-shot artist. We all knew his reputation for taking wild charges at defensemen after they dish outlet passes and are off-balance so they fall down and announcers talk about how hard he plays, but those can at least usually be defended as message-sending collisions, if irrelevant to the play, and the actual hits themselves usually aren’t illegal (because the NHL stopped calling Charging some 12 years ago).
How could even the most ardent Caps supporter defend Ovechkin at this point, though? Did he again just stick his leg out on Gleason as a last-second reactionary move? Do we really believe that Alex Ovechkin, of all NHL players, really lacks the control over his own body to not dangerously collide with an opponent three times in 27 games? After multiple identical incidents, it stops being an unfortunate anomaly and starts being Ovechkin doing the damn thing.
I’m expecting a 5-game suspension for Ovechkin, which might not appease fans of Eastern Conference rivals, but it’s hard to suspend him for much more, based on precedent and the fact that they’ll technically have to suspend him based on just the Gleason hit, and not some combo for all three. Maybe the league will get lucky and Ovechkin’s self-inflicted injury will be severe enough to dissuade him from doing this in the future. Or maybe the guy just plays so much harder than every other player in the NHL, he ends up being the victim of unfortunate reflexive moves that he cannot control but which create the illusion of him kneeing opposing players with incredible frequency.
Probably the latter.
[UPDATE: Ovechkin has been suspended for two games.]