Is the pressure getting to Alex Ovechkin?

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Ovi4.jpgAside from the story of how Tomas Plekanec actually backed up his big
words — something you don’t see everyday in professional sports — the
story this morning is surrounding Alex Ovechkin and his zero shots on
goal.

The Capitals were foiled by much more than just Ovechkin
being a non-factor for much of the game
, but for their captain — and
someone who is supposedly Hart Trophy worthy — to disappear for long
stretches has to be concerning. It’s much more so than just looking at
the numbers and determining that he didn’t have a good game; anyone
watching could see that Ovechkin had a tough time being his normally
high-energy, dominant self.

Bruce Boudreau pulled no punches,
saying after the game “He didn’t play good. The gapped on real well on
him but I don’t think Alex played very well.”

So what was it? Was
Ovechkin just not good, or did the Canadiens just do one heck of a job
taking away the Capitals’ best player?

Jaroslav Spacek is happy
with how his team played Ovechkin, but had nothing but praise for the
man everyone is asking about today. From
Dan Steinberg of the D.C. Sports Blog
:

“He was playing good,” Spacek said. “His shots didn’t
get through,
that’s the problem, but I think we did a great job against their first
line all night long. We didn’t give them too much space. If he will be
shooting from the blue line, he’s probably not that effective. And we
had the guys to step up on him all the time. So when you see the third
guy, fourth guy coming back, that’s even better for our defensemen.”

It’s
worth noting that Ovechkin wasn’t exactly shotless. He had five blocked
shots and three that missed the net, the most total attempts on the
team aside from Mike Knuble and Alex Semin.

That being said,
there’s no doubt that something just isn’t right. He had the second most
ice time on the team last night (26:26), but it certainly didn’t seem
like he was on the ice for that amount of time while watching the game.
He wasn’t pushing the play, wasn’t aggressively attacking the defense up
the wing like we’ve seen time and time again, and instead seemed intent
on trying to continuously take the puck across the slot as he looked
for an opening. There never was one.

Is Ovechkin hurt, or is this
something mental? He just hasn’t been the same since the Olympics
disappointment, and you have to wonder if the pressure is starting to
get to him. He’s no longer the free wheeling, aggressive, fun-loving
hockey player that has dominated so many games. He was calm, quiet and a
bit off during practice leading up to last night’s game, stating he was
saving his emotions for the game; that emotional side of him never
showed up.

This isn’t to pin the loss on Ovechkin; far from it. As
David Getz of Japers’ Rink noted last night
, Ovechkin, Semin and Mike
Green all had off nights with just eight shots on goal between the
three. The Capitals will need the entire team to step up, but in the end
it’s Ovechkin that can make the difference.

He’s supposedly the
best player in the NHL, one who has the ability to completely take over a
game. If the Capitals are to avoid one hell of an upset, they’ll need
him to find that emotional core that he’s used all season long.

Video: Calls go Penguins’ way early in Game 1; own goal plagues Predators

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However you feel about the context of each call, it’s tough to deny that some big decisions ended up going favorably early for the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

To start, a would-be 1-0 goal by P.K. Subban was waved off thanks to Filip Forsberg being deemed offside. More on that here.

In a rare span, the Predators were whistled for two penalties during the same sequence in the first period, giving the Penguins a 5-on-3 advantage for a full two minutes. Pittsburgh started off the advantage a little rocky, but then Evgeni Malkin made it 1-0. (Video of that tally in the headline above.)

The controversy comes as Sidney Crosby seemed to get away with interference/elbow shortly before that goal was scored. That sequence will feed a conspiracy theory or two.

The Predators have managed to avoid tough stretches for much of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but things seemed to really escalate from there. The Penguins managed three goals in a staggering 4:11 of game time, with Nick Bonino putting a puck off Mattias Ekholm for a painful own goal, making it 3-0 as the first period concluded.

The Penguins seemed to take control of the game after that disallowed goal, adding to the argument that some combination of the decision and the slowdown helped turn the tide.

How will the Predators respond to this adversity in Game 1? Find out on NBC and via the stream below.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Subban goal waved off hours after Bettman defends offside challenges

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The Nashville Predators were controlling the play early in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, showing little concern for the big stage of Game 1. It looked like that early edge would come with the reward of a P.K. Subban 1-0 goal.

(Subban had to feel that much more satisfied as he was being booed early and often by Penguins fans in Pittsburgh.)

But, alas, the dreaded goal review negated such a goal, as it was determined that Filip Forsberg was offside. You can watch the process in the video above, while this is a GIF of the moment in question.

As a reminder, Gary Bettman said all the right things about reviews working “exactly as they are intended to” mere hours ago, even as snarky folks make snarky jokes about a rapid contest being interrupted by replays that … might not entertain everyone.

Whether the NHL likes it or not, this will be a talking point for many.

Updated Stanley Cup Final lineups: Carl Hagelin, Colin Wilson out in Game 1

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PHT provided early looks at what the Nashville Predators’ and Pittsburgh Penguins’ lineups might look like, and those viewpoints ended up being mostly correct.

That’s especially true when it comes to the Penguins. As expected, Carl Hagelin will not suit up for the Penguins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. Patric Hornqvist indeed returns while Jake Guentzel avoids a healthy scratch.

Here’s the lines that Pittsburgh listed on Twitter:

The Predators provide a surprise, however, as Colin Wilson is not in the mix. Instead, the Predators will have Craig Smith and Mike Fisher in the lineup.

Game 1 is just minutes from beginning. Check it out on NBC or stream it via the link below.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Daly addresses Voynov potentially returning to Kings

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An interesting development on Monday, prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final — following Gary Bettman’s state of the league address, deputy commissioner Bill Daly was asked about the possibility of former Kings d-man Slava Voynov returning to the NHL.

Voynov hasn’t played in L.A. since the ’14-15 campaign, when he was suspended indefinitely while facing domestic violence charges.

“If that was ever something that was proposed, we’re on record as saying that would require a proceeding before the commissioner,” Daly said, when asked about Voynov’s possible return.

When asked if Voynov had “served his time,” Daly offered the following:

“Ultimately that’s not my decision, that’ll be Gary’s decision.

“I don’t want to speculate either on what that might be. I’ve heard from time to time that he might have an interest in coming back to the National Hockey League, but that hasn’t advanced in any material way to this point.

“So let’s wait and see if it happens.”

The Voynov topic arose when a reporter asked Daly about the league’s stance, on the understanding that “at one point, the Kings were considering trying to bring [Voynov] back.”

That came on the heels of a report from John Hoven of Mayor’s Manor, who said Kings management and scouts had seen Voynov play “multiple times” this season.

In July of 2015, Voynov pleaded no contest to a reduced misdemeanor charge and was sentenced to 90 days in jail. Months later, he returned to his native Russia and signed a three-year pact with SKA Saint Petersburg.

The move freed L.A. from Voynov’s $4.16 million average annual cap hit. Per The OC Register, Voynov’s decision to “self-depart” the U.S. may have kept the door open for a return to North America at some point in the future.

In October, Team Russia tried to include Voynov on its active roster for the World Cup of Hockey, claiming it was in negotiations with the league on the matter. The NHL eventually ruled him ineligible — “our position was the NHL suspension disqualified him,” Daly explained — and he was eventually replaced by Bolts blueliner Nikita Nesterov.