He is the leading goal scorer in the NHL and as the saying goes, you can not necessarily stop Alex Ovechkin. You can only hope to contain him.
That’s the task for the Buffalo Sabres defense when the team battles the star forward for the first time this season. Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals come to First Niagara Center for a 5 p.m. faceoff.
The 28-year-old Russian has 30 goals this season, the best in the league. His 62 goals also ranks first in the NHL for the 2013 calendar year.
“Some years the media is all over him that he doesn’t score or something and he always scores over 30-40 goals,” said Sabres defenseman Henrik Tallinder. “That guy, he never sleeps. It seems like he is awake all the time on the ice. It’s tough.”
Ovechkin scores goals and finds a way to produce offense. It’s what has won him three league MVP honors and three scoring titles and he’s likely on his way to No. 4 for both again this season. The quest will be interrupted briefly as Ovechkin stars for Team Russia at the Sochi Olympics in February.
“Those types of players, the Crosbys and the Malkins and the Ovechkins, you don’t try to say they’re not going to get any chances because they will,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said, also referencing Penguins stars Sidney Crosby and Evegni Malkin. “You’ve got to limit their opportunities and make it a tough game on them. That’s the only way you’re going to hopefully have some success.”
Ovechkin is a minus-7 in 30 career games against the Sabres, but he hasn’t exactly slept-walked through every meeting with Buffalo. He has 20 goals, 10 of them on the power play, and 32 points lifetime versus the Sabres.
He has taken a league-leading 190 shots this season. That’s 32 more than Phil Kessel, who ranks second. Ovechkin also leads the NHL in power-play goals with 12, which means the Sabres need to not only limit Ovechkin’s chances but limit their time in the penalty box as well.
“He’s obviously a big threat with not only his shot but how many shots he takes in a game,” Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers said. “It’s the same with any player really, you want to limit his time and space and try to force him to make a play he doesn’t want to make.
“He likes to sneak behind the D-men a lot coming out of their D-zone. So you always have to watch a guy like that. He’s a big weapon in the league and you always have to be aware of him.”
There is a comfort level for the Sabres playing at home recently, where they have won their last three games over Phoenix (overtime), Boston and Winnipeg.
While tonight’s task is against a quality opponent in the Captitals, who not only have twice as many wins as the Sabres but also have a 6-2-2 mark in their last 10 games, December has been a month of momentum building and results producing for the Sabres.
Buffalo is 4-4-2 this month and of their 10 wins this season, seven have come at First Niagara Center.
The focus for the Sabres remains on working hard and simplicity, while letting the results take care of themselves.
“You can see it turn the corner,” Myers said. “You can see a different team than we were at the start of the season. For us it’s just a matter of making sure we keep focusing on taking steps forward. The position we’re in we can’t take any days off. We can’t take any shifts off, periods off.
“We have to realize what we have as a group right now. The big thing is we have to keep it simple.”