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Jamming The Crease: Alex Ovechkin's excuse; Calder Trophy race is on; more

Coach Adam Oates and Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals Clearly Adam Oates and Alex Ovechkin don't see eye to eye on an important matter. (Bruce Bennett/Getty images)

By Allan Muir

It should have been a lay-up.

Meeting with the Washington media today for the first time since being called out for quitting on a play by his coach, Adam Oates, all Alex Ovechkin had to do was offer a note of remorse. Just the slightest hint that he grasped his culpability on a goal that snowballed into a crushing 5-0 loss to Dallas on Tuesday night.

Something simple, like this:

"You know what? Oatesy was right. My lack of hustle on that play was inexcusable and it cost us a goal. As the captain of this team, I have to hold myself to a higher standard. I owe that much to my teammates, my fans and the organization. I'll never be a defensive wizard, but I can be better than I've shown. And I will be."

Instead, Ovechkin offered this as an excuse:

"He’s the head coach and I get the blame from it, but in that moment I think everybody quit on the play."

Ho. Lee. Sheet.

“To be honest with you I didn’t see him, I kind of lost the position," he added, somehow finding room in that gap-toothed maw for his other foot. "It is what it is. We make lots of mistakes, it’s not about one mistake. You can’t blame one mistake in the whole game.”

MUIR: Time to strip Ovechkin of his captaincy

He's right. It's not just one mistake. But that's not the point, is it?

Because this isn't about a lazily blown coverage anymore. It's about responsibility. He had two days--two days!--to man up. Instead, he shrugged his shoulders and pointed fingers.

To his defenders -- and I've heard from plenty of you in the past 24 hours -- I ask again: Is this the guy you want leading your team? A player who not only refuses to take ownership of his mistakes, but decides that the best response is to throw his teammates under the bus?

If it is, you can have him.

He may be one heck of a scorer and a true entertainer, but as a leader, Ovechkin is a dog. And as long as he's calling the shots, the Capitals are going nowhere.

Looks we like have a race...

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Ondrej Palat made up ground on frontrunner Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche with 16 points in 16 games and his second consecutive Rookie of the Month honor in March, turning the pursuit of the Calder Trophy into a two-man race. The award is still MacKinnon's to lose, if only because his first-overall pick pedigree and more familiar brand, but the way Palat has asserted himself and filled the vacuum in Tampa created by Martin St. Louis's departure to New York is going to make it interesting. Palat has been equally impressive away from the puck, leading all rookies in takeaways to go along with his plus-28 rating. I still like Pittsburgh's Olli Maatta to join them as a finalist because of how smoothly he's filled in on the top pair while the Penguins have battled injuries, but Frederik Anderson deserves a long look as well. Anaheim's backup goalie has taken on a heavier workload down the stretch, running his record to 19-5-0 to help vault the Ducks back into first place in the Pacific Division. And take a look at his boxcar numbers. Both his .925 save percentage and 2.27 goals-against average are superior to what starter Jonas Hiller has put up this season (.913, 2.41). Problem is, Anderson will be competing for votes with another Duck likely to be ignored out East, defenseman Hampus Lindholm.

Great Danes

For a country that has just over 3,700 registered male players, Denmark's doing a nice job of cranking out talent. Along with Anderson, center Frans Nielsen of the Islanders is having a career season with 23 goals and 52 points. Winger Mikkel Boedker has never taken the next step that was expected of him, but he's a solid NHLer with a wicked shot. Winger Nicklas Jensen is the top prospect in Vancouver's system. But the kids are the ones who have everyone excited. Denmark's U-18 and U-20 teams earned promotions to play against the big kids at the World Championships, thanks largely to the play of winger Nikolaj Ehlers. One scout called him "a Russ Courtnall type, really, really quick on his feet and has a real knack around the net." Ehlers' name is expected to be called in the middle of the first round of this year's draft. Winger Oliver Bjorkstrand, a 2013 Columbus pick, just finished third in the WHL scoring race with 50 goals and 109 points. Goaltender Georg Sorensen is small but combative and could be taken late in this year's draft after being passed over last year. And if you've got a long memory, store away the name of Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup, a 16-year-old forward who moved to the States this year to improve his game and is already being mentioned as a possible high pick in 2016.

Top priority

There's not much argument that American-born defenseman Jakob Chychrun, son of former NHLer Jeff Chychrun, is the best prospect available for this Saturday's OHL Priority Draft. Having just turned 16 last week and already 6-2 and 198 pounds, Chychrun is a big, ill-tempered defender, but more adept with the puck than his dad. "Massive potential ... he's someone you can go to war with," one scout offered. That doesn't mean that Chychrun will go first, though. There's talk that Sarnia, which holds the No. 1, has its eyes on Adam Mascherin, a smallish Jeff Skinner-type speedster with a terrific shot. The thinking: the Sting could lose Chychrun to the NHL in two years, the same way it lost Steven Stamkos (2006-08). Meanwhile, the 5-9 Mascherin is a pro project who's likely to stick around for four years. Makes sense.

Ugly ties

What with all the talk lately about how best to decide games, it's worth noting that April 4 marks the 10th anniversary of the last tie game in NHL history. It was a doozy, with the Hurricanes building up a 4-0 lead over Florida on that date in 2004 before the Panthers answered back with six of their own. Eric Staal drew the Canes within one with just under five minutes remaining, setting the stage for Brad Fast to make his mark in history. Playing in the only NHL game of his career, the defenseman beat Roberto Luongo for the equalizer. After neither team scored in OT, it went in the books as a sister-kisser. Whether you love the shootout or want more OT, everyone can agree that either option is better than one of those.

Short Shifts

* Big reason why the New York Rangers are finishing the season on a tear? How about a penalty kill that's 42-of-45 over the last 16 games (93.3 percent) to go along with seven shorthanded goals. Ryan McDonagh, currently sitting with a shoulder injury had two of those ...

* There was some thought the Calgary Flames might sign top goaltending prospect Jon Gillies once his college season ended. Gillies ended the speculation on Thursday, tweeting that he would return to Providence for his junior season. Probably best for all sides. Despite his .931 save percentage (fifth in the nation) and 2.17 GAA, another year with the Friars makes sense for his development ...

* The signing of Wisconsin Badger Jake McCabe reinforces how much talent there is on the blueline in Buffalo's system. He could be the next Adam Foote -- a meat-and-potatoes depth defender who assumes a significant leadership role for the Sabres ...

* For all the heat he's going to take for another failed season in Winnipeg, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff deserves props for making one of the better quiet deals of the summer. Michael Frolik has really brought something to the Jets with this speed and two-way play. For all the work that has to be done there, he's one piece this team can count on. Signing this RFA soon makes sense ...

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