Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin won the NHL All-Star competition for hardest shot this year, posting a 101.3-mph strike that made him the first forward since 2002 to garner the title.
The Wild had the daunting job of trying to stop that man Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center.
“There’s not too many teams that have handled him over his career,” said Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, who coached Ovechkin with Washington from 2007-11. “You could sit there and say, ‘We’re going to defend, defend, defend,’ but if he gets his shot away, it’s a good chance that it’s going to go in.”
Wild defenseman Matt Dumba said he and his teammates would “try” to stay with Ovechkin.
“He can get it off from about anywhere,” Dumba said. “So it’s going to be kind of a five-man effort to take away time and space from those guys and keep it out of his hands.”
Goaltender Devan Dubnyk said Ovechkin provides “a unique threat” that he hasn’t had a ton of success stopping in his career. But his strategy is to not overthink when he sees the winger post up in his favorite shooting spot, the circle to the right of the goalie.
“You’ve just got to be aware of him always, and you’ve got to do your best to get over and get set on him,” Dubnyk said. “The one thing with dangerous shooters, a lot of times you can naturally kind of want to come charging out on them and be aggressive. But that doesn’t really work because if you’re moving and the guy’s shooting, any player, it makes the save that much more difficult.”
But maybe if Dubnyk is lucky, one of his teammates will block the puck — or at least take the edge off it.
“Yeah, it’s a little scarier going out into a lane like that when you know who’s over there,” Dumba said of blocking an Ovechkin shot. “But you’ve got to step up on our team.”
On Thursday, it was four years to the day that Capitals winger T.J. Oshie performed his heroics against Russia and become an American hockey hero. Back in Sochi for the 2014 Olympics, Oshie made four of six shots in an eight-round shootout to lift the U.S. over its Miracle on Ice rivals.
Oshie said he didn’t realize it had been four years since that iconic moment.
“It’s pretty crazy. It seems like it’s gone pretty fast. It feels like it was just last year,” he said. “I imagine with how many good players we had on the team, how many good guys we had on the team, especially in the shootout, that maybe they’d go away from me after I missed once or twice. Coach [Dan] Bylsma kept going at it. And I had a lot of help back there from [goaltender Jonathan Quick]. It was a pretty crazy way to win a game.”
Despite that wild game, the U.S. ended up finishing a disappointing fourth in those Winter Games. This time around with NHL players not allowed to participate, the U.S. team is made up of European league, American Hockey League and college players. That team lost its first game in overtime to Slovenia earlier this week.
Oshie, a Warroad High School star, said he hasn’t been able to catch many Olympic hockey games this year because of the time difference, but he’s watched some highlights and is hopeful the U.S. can make its way into the medal round.
The Olympic hero called going to the Games “the highlight” of his career, and he would “go back in a heartbeat. “
“I wish we were there,” Oshie said. “Yeah, it’s got to be amazing for them. For me going, I was, gosh, I don’t know, a six-year pro and still it was an amazing experience. To go at that age, they must be having a blast. I hope they take advantage of it and really enjoy their time there.”
Milestone for Mikko
Wild team captain Mikko Koivu played in his 900th NHL game Thursday against Washington. The 34-year-old Finn began his career in 2005-06 and has been a mainstay on the Wild ever since.
“He has to be good because not a lot of players play 900 games, and you have to do it and be healthy,” Boudreau said before the game. “I congratulated him this morning because I said I’d probably forget tonight, but that’s a great accomplishment. And it’s all with one team, which doesn’t happen too often. So he deserves all the kudos he can get.”