Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Walking the Line at Playoff Time. . .

Be patient with me, as I'm trying to walk a fine line with this one. I have been contemplating writing something up in the wake of Monday night's game 3, but I've been busy and am still trying to weigh how I voice my opinions.

I think in Alex Ovechkin's case you almost have to look at him in two very distinct ways - as a player whose enthusiasm you enjoy watching and as a player who may not yet understand what he can and cannot get away with at a critical time of the year.

Look, I'm not going to say I was thrilled with the Rangers devastating and disgusting pre-holiday fallout in which Ovechkin led his team back from a 0-4 deficit to win the game. And goodness knows I was less than thrilled with the Ranger's leaders verbal response that night. But it was, on some level, a pleasure to see someone that is so capable of dazzling the masses do something remarkable in a game he so greatly enjoys. After the comeback, the Washington team gathered and fell into a mass pile on the ice as if they had won a playoff round.

Believe it or not, that didn't bother me. It was a great game, a great singular game in a long season. I mean the Rangers falling apart and giving one of their classic collapse moments bothered me big time. Alex and his team's enthusiasm did not.

I've been walking the line in my words on Ovechkin because I do like him very much and appreciate all he brings to the game. And as I've expressed before, especially in this new NHL, a person with the personality and character of Ovechkin is so refreshing and so important to have. It really is. He has and can continue to do great things for this game we all love.

That being said, there is a big difference in doing things like that in the regular season, after a singular game with little consequence to the big picture, and doing the same things in the middle of an intense playoff series where you are playing the same team game after game. Those are two very distinct times of year and similar actions at either time will breed very different reactions.

In that regard, I'm not sure I agree with all of his Alex's actions on Monday. Not because I am personally offended; I'm really not. But because it raises a concern over where his thoughts are and if they are where they should be. If he's my leader - and don't tell me the rest of that team, especially the young ones, are not looking to their outspoken and charismatic leader for guidance of some sort - I want him to focus on what he can do on the ice - during the game - and not how he can get attention off of it.

Again, I am not overly insulted by what he did. The mock stick salute may have seemed in poor taste, and I'm not going to disagree with anyone that thinks it is, but, to me, this is more a matter of poor timing on his part.

Silly and unnecessary things like that are going to anger some fans, as well as perhaps some members of the team, and I'm not sure that's the anger you want to incite. And if this becomes a reoccurring thing, he runs the risk of angering fans of one team at a time, and that will not do wonders for the good reputation I think he wants to build in this league. Yes, they are two different seasons, regular and playoff time, but he can't fool himself into thinking the fans will have such short memories come next year and the next time the teams meet the following season.

Now if he's succeeding in distracting the Rangers, then maybe it's a tactic at war time that he's trying to employ. But if he's not, I think he's giving people the wrong impression. Reputations are built during the playoffs in more ways than one, and I think on a personal level, I've respected the players that have been there before, and shown humility in their joy and dignity in their defeat.

I'm not saying I want him to do what I'm about to mention - goodness knows I do not! - but his biggest statement could be in him taking complete control over the game, and over the series, and leading his team to a comeback victory. That'd speak louder and generate more attention than any tricks he may try to pull. I'm hoping that's something he'll learn as he continues to grow in this league.

Alex Ovechkin is a remarkable hockey player, probably the most well-rounded and most dynamic of this very talented young crop of players the NHL is currently blessed with. I think almost everyone would agree he should focus on that, and save the extra dramatics for the regular season home games at Verizon Center or the annual NHL All-Star Game.

As much as I'm trying to walk a fine line in writing this, at this time of year, Alex Ovechkin too should be trying to do the same.

**I was going to write this in response to Kerri's recent blog post at Some Like It Blue, but it got to be kinda long...not surprisingly.**

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