There are a lot of people out there who think Alex Ovechkin is a dirty player, but there's one thing to note about players who are considered 'dirty.' It implies that there's malicious intent. What Steve Downie did to Sidney Crosby over the weekend was a dirty play. The questionable hits Ovechkin has laid down over the course of his career are reckless, but not dirty.
Reckless play is not dirty play. Reckless play happens when players who play on the edge tip toe across that edge. Ovechkin is a high-flying, dynamic, entertaining, gifted hockey player. That's what makes him such an appeal to everybody from the average sports fan to the diehard hockey fan. He plays on the edge, and sometimes, he goes over that edge, creating situations that can be dangerous for opposing players or even himself.
For this reason, Ovechkin may have a shorter career than he would otherwise have. Many have suggested that he needs to rein in his play a little bit in an attempt to simply save himself from inflicting serious injury upon himself. Others have suggested that he rein in his play because it's impossible for a hockey player who will inevitably, you know, get older, to keep up the style of play he employs.
These are all valid points, but to what extent do we want Ovechkin to step back from the way he plays? His reckless style is what makes him so exciting to watch, and it's safe to say that if more players played like he does, hockey might be a more popular sport among the average sports fan. Toning down his game would, simply put, take out half the things people love about Alex Ovechkin.
It's a bit of a quandry, then. We don't want Alex to necessarily change his ways because it will detract from his overall game. At the same time, the way he crosses the line puts other players on the sidelines so often with these questionable hits make a change rather necessary.
Whatever he decides to do, though, it's obvious that Ovechkin doesn't intend to hit the ice and injure other players. Most people seem to think that knee-on-knee hits are the most dirty of the questionable offenses in Ovechkin's closet, but the fact of the matter is that they're plays that happen out of instinct.
A player will stick out his knee to stop another player as a last resort, and while the hit can be extremely dangerous and could even end the career of either player in extreme situations, it's not a situation that one would put themselves in simply with the intent of hurting another player. There has to be another reason, and while it's an instinctual reason without much thought process applied in the heat of a game, it's not a dirty play.
In fact, Tim Gleason, the victim of Ovechkin's most recent knee-on-knee hit, didn't really have a problem with it.
"I've got nothing wrong with the way he plays. Actually, he's the number one player for a reason, and that's why the fans come to watch him: he puts the puck in the net and he's gonna hit you when he can. You know, he's one of those players that you just have to have your head up, but I'm sure everybody in this dressing room or any other dressing room would like him on their team. So I think it's just an aggressive style, and more power to him."
The league's best player may need to adjust his game slightly to prevent dangerous injury in the future, but too much change will take away his impact on the ice. It's a fine line that Ovechkin needs to walk. Let's hope he does it right.