RALEIGH — Joe Corvo will say what a lot of other defensemen in the NHL won't: He likes playing against Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin.
It's the toughest matchup in the league, the Carolina Hurricanes defenseman says. There's no one quite like Ovechkin.
Then again, when the Capitals (14-6-2) face the Hurricanes (9-9-2) tonight at the RBC Center, that means Ovechkin must deal with Corvo. And in recent games, it has been an interesting duel to watch.
"I think we have respect for each other," Corvo said Tuesday. "I know I enjoy it on my side of it, playing against him, because it's not easy, and if you do it well, it gives you a little confidence going into the next game."
When the teams first played this season, Oct. 27 at the RBC Center, the Caps won 3-0. Ovechkin, often on the ice with Corvo, had five shots but did not score, finishing with an assist. For the season, Ovechkin has 10 goals and 16 assists in 22 games.
"Joe's got very good feet for a defenseman and can close the gap and angle well," Canes coach Paul Maurice said. "You have to do that to be able to play against a player like Ovechkin, who's so shifty and then so strong to the outside that you really need a good skating defenseman to match up against him.
"I think all those defensemen like the idea of playing against the best. They want that challenge, and it brings out the best in them."
Corvo also has some added insight from playing as Ovechkin's teammate late last season. On the March 4 trade deadline, the Canes dealt Corvo to the Capitals in exchange for two players and a draft pick, allowing Corvo to get a better feel for Ovechkin's tendencies on the ice, as well as the Russian wing's personality off it.
"He gets pretty amped up for every game," said Corvo, who signed a free-agent contract and returned to the Hurricanes after last season. "You get his best."
Neither Ovechkin nor the Caps were anywhere close to their best Monday. The Caps (14-6-2) were routed 5-0 by the New Jersey Devils - the kind of flat game that resulted in a strenuous practice Tuesday at the RBC Center.
"They will come in a little snarly," Maurice said.
The Caps would like some snarls from Ovechkin. He hasn't had a point in four of the past six games. Those around the Caps say he hasn't been the usually energetic "Ovie."
Against the Canes, Ovechkin has not scored a goal in the past six games and just one in the past nine. Corvo said the strategy was simple: Limit Ovechkin's attempts.
"I know what he's going to do, basically," Corvo said. "Most cases, he's going to try and put a move on you. And if he's not going to do that, he's going to try and shoot between your legs and use you as a screen - one of those two options.
"When he's further out, he can score. He has such a quick shot, a hard shot. It's almost like you're trying not to let him shoot it at all, whether it be in tight or farther out. It's more of a challenge to do that - to try and not even let a guy get a shot on goal."
Not that it's all about Corvo. It's never that way in hockey. To stop Ovechkin, to stop the firepower of the Capitals, it's more about a team defensive effort.
Corvo said the addition of veteran defenseman Ian White in a trade last week with the Calgary Flames has made the Canes stronger on the back end.
"It's great," he said. "I'll think you'll see more solid play as a whole from the D corps. We have more confidence that we have six guys who can play defense and keep the scores down. It's a tremendous asset to put back there."
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