Mr. Smith goes to Washington, hoping to shut down Ovechkin

When it comes to playing the Washington Capitals, Ottawa Senators centre Zack Smith could care less about his own offensive statistics.

Mr. Smith goes to Washington, hoping to shut down Ovechkin
Zack Smith during practice. Ottawa Senators practice at the Bell Sensplex Monday morning before heading off to Washington for another stint of away games. (Julie Oliver/Ottawa Citizen)

WASHINGTON — When it comes to playing the Washington Capitals, Ottawa Senators centre Zack Smith could care less about his own offensive statistics.

What Smith does cares about are Alex Ovechkin’s numbers — or lack thereof. If Smith and the Senators’ other defensive specialists do their job effectively and slow down the league’s leading goal-scorer here Tuesday, Ovechkin will once again end the night in frustration, and Smith will be full of pride.

“For me, that’s exactly what it is,” Smith said following the Senators practice in Ottawa Monday and before an afternoon flight to Washington. “At home, anyways, you’re going to be able to get those matchups, but whether it’s me and Chris (Neil) or Colin (Greening) or Erik (Condra), or whoever it is at the time, I think we’ve done a pretty good job against their big line.

“Offence isn’t a big part of my game, but that’s something I take pride in.”

While Ovechkin leads the league with 35 goals, the Senators are riding a wave of success against him and the Capitals. The Senators, aiming to bounce back from a lacklustre 4-1 defeat to the New York Rangers Saturday, have won their past six games against the Capitals, including a 6-4 win in Washington on Nov. 27 and a 3-1 victory at the Canadian Tire Centre on Dec. 30. The last Washington win over Ottawa was on Dec. 3, 2011.

Ovechkin has picked up only one assist in the two games against the Senators this season and has one goal and one assist in his past five games against Ottawa. In Ovechkin’s past 10 games against the Senators, he has been limited to two goals and three assists.

If the Senators can hit the Lucky 7 streak and win in regulation against the Capitals, they will also leapfrog past Washington in the Eastern Conference standings with a four-point game in the battle for wild card positioning.

Yet while the Capitals appear to be reeling, having lost their past five games and having been outscored 13-5 in their past three, Senators captain Jason Spezza says Ovechkin and setup man Nicklas Backstrom have a history of embarrassing teams that aren’t prepared for their talent.

“We’ve done a good job of frustrating them (recently),” said Spezza. “But they have some top guys that, if they get rolling, it’s going to be a long night. They’ve done it to us in the past. It’s a matter of being hard on those guys and not letting the game be easy for them.”

After the Senators’ last victory in late December, Ovechkin was shaking his head after the game, particularly upset at Neil and publicly criticizing the officials for not calling the game properly while wondering aloud if they had been partaking in early New Year’s Eve celebrations.

In the Senators’ wide open win in November, Smith ended up scoring the game-winning goal on a third period breakaway — his first goal in 13 career games against Washington.

Again, though, Smith isn’t counting on scoring. If he does his job defensively — both in even strength situations and against the Capitals power play — he will be content.

“When you prepare for the game, you obviously have to watch the Ovechkin line, they depend a lot on him,” said Smith. “Their power play is also very good and we’ve done a good job of killing penalties against them. When we do look at our penalty killing and the video of stuff we do well, Washington keeps popping up. Shutting that down is a big part of (success), too.”

Craig Anderson, who has claimed victory in both of the earlier wins against Washington, will be in goal, aiming to improve on his career record of 10-5-1 against the Capitals. He’s also looking to start a new personal streak of success. Saturday’s loss against New York ended his personal string of nine games in which the Senators claimed at least a point.

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