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Don’t blame Alex Ovechkin for the injury to Andrei Svechnikov, blame fighting in the NHL

Don’t blame Alex Ovechkin for the injury to Andrei Svechnikov, blame fighting in the NHL

Monday’s Game 3 in Raleigh had an ugly end for the Capitals, but the start was just as ugly for everyone watching. Early in the first period Alex Ovechkin and Andrei Svechnikov dropped the gloves and Ovechkin dropped Svechnikov soon after. Ovechkin connected with a punch and Svechnikov went down hard to the ice, hitting his head on the ice as he fell. He had to be helped to his knees and off the ice. He did not return to the game.

Carolina head coach Rod Brind’Amour told the media on Tuesday that Svechnikov went to the hospital on Monday and is in the NHL’s concussion protocol. He is not expected to play in Game 4.

You never want to see a player injured, especially a 19-year-old kid. It was tough to watch and an unfortunate result of the fight. But because it was such a cringe-worthy moment, Ovechkin has faced some criticism for participating in the fight in the first place. A lot of this has to do with Brind’Amour fanning the flames of what is essentially a non-controversy by disputing Ovechkin’s account of what happened.

While Ovechkin said Svechnikov asked to fight, Brind’Amour said, “If you watch the video, because I’ve got to watch it, he slashes him twice, Ovi. Whack, whack. And then Svech gives him back. I don’t know if there’s words exchanged, but one guy’s gloves comes off way first and that’s Ovi’s, it’s not our guy’s. It’s a little bit frustrating because he got hurt and it’s his first fight. He’s played 90 games, he’s never fought in his life and I’m pretty sure Ovi knew that.”

Brind’Amour doubled down on Tuesday as he told the media, “There’s two versions going around," seemingly calling into question Ovechkin’s contention that Svechnikov asked for the fight.

It’s fair to hate what happened to Svechnikov. It’s fair to wish he never got hurt. But it’s not fair to blame the incident on Ovechkin.

For those “hot takes” out there saying what Ovechkin did was assault, maybe the sport of hockey isn’t for you. A lot of sports, in fact, may not be for you.

Yes, punching a person in real life is considered assault. So is body-checking. So is hitting a person with a wooden stick. So is a football tackle, a basketball charge, a pitcher beaning a batter, etc. As a society, we have decided that during a professional sports competition, we will accept a different standard of behavior. We do not get to pick and choose when that applies and when it doesn’t.

Brind’Amour’s account of what happened as he describes it just is not accurate.

Here’s a replay of the fight and the events that preceded it.

Both players are engaged with one another before the fight. Who slashes whom, who shoves whom, is irrelevant. The notion that Brind’Amour doesn’t know if words were exchanged means he either did not watch the video or did not pay attention to it. Clearly, they are talking with one another before they drop the gloves. 

As for what was said, all we know is what Ovechkin told us and that is that Svechnikov challenged him. If you decide you do not believe that, that’s fine. I don’t speak Russian and I’m not a lip reader. Having said that, you cannot watch the video and tell me that either player was unwilling or surprised when the fight started. They both knew what was coming and they both consented to it.

Yes, Ovechkin is listed at 235 pounds, Svechnikov at 195. Yes, Svechnikov is young, but he is an adult playing in the NHL. He is responsible for himself on the ice. He did not get jumped, he did not get sucker punched. He knew what he was getting into. At least, he thought he did. He got injured as a result and it was horrifying to watch, but you cannot blame Ovechkin for accepting the challenge.

So long as fighting is legal in the NHL, mismatches are going to happen. Knockouts are going to happen. If you don’t like that, blame the fact that fights are still a part of the NHL, not Ovechkin.

I am not arguing whether fights should or should not be taken out of the game.

All I am saying is that if you cringed when you saw Svechnikov go down on Monday, that has more to do with the fight itself than the man throwing the punches.


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Losing Nicklas Backstrom would be 'huge trouble' for the Capitals

Losing Nicklas Backstrom would be 'huge trouble' for the Capitals

Nicklas Backstrom only played seven minutes in the Caps' frustrating Game 1 loss to the Islanders last night after a late hit by Anders Lee sidelined him for the second and third periods. 

The Caps' weren't happy about it, fans certainly weren't happy about it, and now the focus shifts to the 32-year-old center who's struggled with concussions in the past. And as the team's radio voice, John Walton explained on the Sports Junkies Thursday, losing Backstrom for more time than they already have would be troubling news.

"If Nicky is out for any length of time, that's huge trouble," Walton said. "The good news is they're gonna get Lars Eller back in Game 2 and he may have to -- and he has in the past -- been the second-line center. But if you lose Nick Backstrom you're obviously losing something big."

Backstrom's value to the Capitals' offense can't be understated. He's a terrific passer, has a unique chemistry with Alex Ovechkin and facilitates the offense like a point guard does in basketball. 

The Islanders are a physical, defensive-minded team, but Walton thinks Lee's hit on Backstrom was a cheap one.


"I don't know if it crossed into suspension territory, [Lee] is not going to be from what we're told," Walton said. "But it was cheap, it was late and it was a lot of things that came out of the Caps' dressing room."

Now we wait to hear Backstrom's status ahead of a crucial Game 2, and since the Eastern Conference playoffs are played in the same place and most of the media is covering the games from home, it's harder to get concrete updates in a timely manner. 

"One of the problems that we're fighting is that when you're [broadcasting] in Washington and the games are in Toronto you don't have the same access to information that we usually have," he said. "We can only go on what we saw."

Head coach Todd Reirden is expected to talk on Backstrom's availability Thursday after practice, so with any luck, the Caps will have Backstrom back for Game 2 on Friday night. If they don't have him, though it's going to be difficult for Washington to avoid the dreaded 2-0 series hole. 


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Braden Holtby takes the blame for critical Game 1 mistakes

Braden Holtby takes the blame for critical Game 1 mistakes

Braden Holtby was the Capitals' best player in the round robin. On Wednesday, he committed two major mistakes that proved to be the difference in Washington's 4-2 Game 1 loss to the New York Islanders and he did not shy away from responsibility afterward.

Late in the second period, the Caps led 2-0 and looked to be in complete control. Then Jordan Eberle took a pass from Mathew Barzal, cut from left to right and fired what should have been a harmless wrister from the top of the faceoff circle. Instead of being an easy save, however, Holtby's body drifted to his right and the puck somehow avoided his raised glove and hit the back of the net.

"First goal obviously can't go in," Holtby said. "I haven't seen a replay of it yet. Can't really tell you too much. I just know it's a bad goal in a bad part of the game. That's on me. That changes the momentum of the game right there."

In the third period, after the Islanders rallied to tie the game at 2, Holtby took a cleared puck on a Caps' power play and tried to casually hand it off to Alex Ovechkin without realizing Brock Nelson charging in after them. Nelson would win possession and pass it off to Josh Bailey who scored the game-winning short-handed goal.

"Shorthanded goal was just more of a miscommunication," Holtby said. "I think I was kind of fighting for it in the sealing and I didn't realize that there wasn't much time there. I should've just held onto it. I thought we had more time. That one's something that we just - you don't want it to happen."


That's two major mistakes with one proving to be the turning point of the game while the other was the game-winning goal.

While Holtby was quick to put the blame on himself, head coach Todd Reirden said the loss was a collective effort.

“Like the rest of our players, I thought we had a good first half of the game and we needed more from everybody in the second half, not just [Holtby]," Reirden said,

It is interesting to wonder what would happen in Game 2 if Ilya Samsonov was healthy and with the team. Holtby was the team's No. 1 all season, but Samsonov played frequently and, for much of the season, outplayed Holtby. Would Reirden make the goalie change for Game 2 if that option was available?

With Samsonov injured, however, this question is purely hypothetical. With the team's two goalie choices behind Holtby being Vitek Vanecek and Pheonix Copley, a goalie switch for Game 2 is not even worth considering. The only solution is for Holtby and the team to forget about Game 1 and remember that it's a long series and Washington is by no means out of it.

"I think we have an experienced enough group to know that one game doesn't make a series," Hotlby said. "It's how you respond to it, it's how you do the little things, learn from the game that you just played and find ways to play them better. I think to push forward from a game like today is one that I want to make sure that I have my best game come next game and as a group, I think individually if we all expect more of ourselves then that's how we've won in the past and that's how we're gonna do it again. First game in the series doesn't say much about how it's gonna go. It's how you respond from here on out."


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