By Chuck Gormley
Bruce Boudreau raised a few eyebrows Monday night when, just two games into the season, he said he expects more out of Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin and is unwilling to accept excuses.
On Wednesday, Ovechkin was asked to comment on his coachs evaluation of his play and was terse with his responses.
I think everybody can be better, Ovechkin said after Thursdays practice, where he was matched with center Nicklas Backstrom and new right wing Troy Brouwer. I think that has to be between me and him and I dont want to comment on it.
Asked if he agrees with Boudreaus assessment, Ovechkin replied, I just said I dont want to comment on it.
Ovechkin seemed to be still seething over being designated Juice Boy. As punishment for being the first player knocked out of a post-practice shooting contest, Ovevhkin had to serve his teammates bottles of Gatorade.
Its kind of weird getting juice from Ovi, Capitals grinder Jay Beagle said.
Having recorded just one assist with a minus-2 ratio, Ovechkin is hoping to break out of his mini-slump Thursday night against the Penguins, who are off to a 3-0-1 start despite being without star center Sidney Crosby.
Boudreau seemed to downplay his post-game criticism of Ovechkin but did not entirely let him off the hook.
I think there are a lot of guys that can be better, Boudreau said. I dont think hes hit the perfect stride yet. If this was Game 38 and he had one point in a two-game stretch I dont think people would be overwhelmed. I just didnt think he had the best game he ever played. He could have been better. But a lot of guys couldve been better.
Brouwer has played just two games as a Capital but has noticed just how much attention and how little room Ovevhkin is given on the ice.
Im sure before every game No. 8 is circled and highlighted, said Brouwer, who will take Mike Knubles spot at top-line right wing. Hes not a secret in this league anymore.
Teams shadow him on the power play. They dont give him much room out there, so its got to be pretty frustrating to him.
Brouwer is hoping his physical presence will create a little more room for Ovechkin to operate.
Even though hes a big guy he doesnt need to be in scrums and fighting, Brouwer said. Im not saying Im going to go fight because of him, but if it needs to happen its part of my role.
In addition to Crosby, who is sidelined indefinitely with a concussion, the Penguins will be without ornery defenseman Brooks Orpik (sports hernia) and could be without Evgeni Malkin (lower body injury).
That hasnt stopped the Pens from going 20-11-5 without Crosby and Malkin in the lineup the past two seasons. And they are 26-13-6 since Crosby left the lineup last January after receiving blows to the head in back-to-back games.
Theyre a good team, Boudreau said. You dont get 105 points without those guys without being a good team.
They have chemistry, he said. They won a Stanley Cup a couple years ago and most of the guys are there. They have chemistry, they have experience and they know how to play.
Ovechkin said that even without Crosby he expects the fans in Pittsburgh to be revved up about facing the Capitals.
Its a big rivalry, he said. Its good for the fans, its a good atmosphere there and it should be a good game.