Capitals’ Win Streak Fueled by Ovechkin’s Hot Hands
While Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin has been a model of consistency over the season totals of his career, during a season itself, he has proven to be a very streaky goal scorer. Back on Feb. 27, Ovechkin was having, by his standards, a slow year, with just six goals in a campaign more notable by a four-game absence due to COVID protocol in January than his on-ice performance. (from ‘Alex Ovechkin returns, scores overtime winner as Capitals beat Bruins, 4-3,’ Washington Post, 01/30/2021)
But with the Capitals locked in a tight race in the MassMutual East Division with some tough competition, the Russian has found his stride in the last three weeks and he now recorded eight goals in Washington’s last 11 games. Ovechkin has seven goals in the team’s last eight games, including the only two his team scored Friday night against the New York Rangers, earning his 115th game-winning goal in the process — fourth all-time in NHL history.
Washington had a fairly listless offensive display overall in the win Friday, as the Rangers limited the Capitals’ offensive opportunities for most of the contest leaving the team frustrated. However, Ovechkin took over the game in the third period after taking a tough hit from Ryan Lindgren in the second, fueling a frantic finish that saw the Caps’ captain crashing the net and delivering two goals in the game’s last seven minutes for a 2-1 win that helped put his club in sole possession of first place in the division. The team then fell back into a first-place tie with the New York Islanders following a 3-1 loss in a rematch with New York Saturday.
Friday’s pair of goals weren’t the usual one-timer from the office for Ovechkin, but him going to the top of the crease and knocking in loose pucks. After the hit from Lindgren, he hit another gear and took the team on his back, not unlike a game against the Montreal Canadiens back in 2008 where he broke his nose and then delivered a four-goal performance in an overtime victory.
“Sometimes you have to get those really gritty ones,” Ovechkin said afterwards on Friday. “It’s still the same whether it’s a goal from my spot or whatever. It’s most important goal, and I’ll take it.”
Dionne Next in Ovechkin’s Sights
The performance was the latest highlight in a memorable week for Ovechkin, who passed Phil Esposito with his 718th career goal Tuesday night against the Islanders. He has a good chance to pass Marcel Dionne for fifth place in NHL history before the short season is done, as he trails him by 11 goals with 25 games left in the regular season.
Washington won seven in a row before Saturday’s setback, all without the suspended Tom Wilson, and five of those without Lars Eller. Needing offense with Wilson and Eller out, Ovechkin has delivered.
“Right now for us it doesn’t matter how many games we win. I think it’s very important to collect the points,” Ovechkin told reporters after Friday’s win. “Obviously I try to get involved.”
Ovechkin’s game has changed over the years, as he no longer has the end-to-end rushes that marked the early years of his career, but now using his potent shot to light the lamp.
Despite his slow start to this season, he is now on a 43-goal pace over an 82 game season. In the 27 games he has skated this year, and he also has 11 helpers — already just eight shy of what he had in 68 games last season.
Despite having turned 35 this past September with a new contract coming up, Ovechkin, now sixth in the NHL’s all-time goal-scoring list, appears to be heating up at the right time for the Capitals.
As Stretch Drive Looms, New Contract May Arrive
This is shaping up to be an intriguing stretch for the Capitals, as the Boston Bruins, Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers have all shown some signs of vulnerability the last few weeks, with varying flaws that they will try to correct before the April 12 trade deadline.
For the most part, Washington has shown it has been able to consistently earn points as the team has been largely healthy, as Friday’s win gave the Capitals 12 wins in 15 games, and at least a point in all but two. Certainly the team has been able to score goals throughout the season, as they are one of just six teams to score 100 goals in the campaign, and averaging 3.4 goals per contest.
The defense and goaltending have been good in this stretch with Ilya Samsonov taking some of the load and delivering some good saves in tight games this month.
As Ovechkin brings his drive to the Capitals offense, it appears sooner rather than later he will sign a contract that will keep him in the nation’s capital as he looks to try and catch Wayne Gretzky for the NHL’s goal-scoring title, as well as hopefully delivering another Stanley Cup banner to the Capital One Arena rafters.
It seems more likely Ovechkin will sign before the regular season ends, with a four- or five-year deal north of his current cap hit of $9.5 million — likely in the $11 to $12 million range. The captain has shown little desire to skate elsewhere in the NHL, and his wish to play in the KHL at the end of his playing days seems to be years off with him still being a very productive NHL player.
With Ovechkin now beginning to heat up as Washington looks to secure a playoff spot in the MassMutual East Division and prepare for what should be an interesting finish to the regular season, as he chases down history while his team looks to make a deep run this spring.
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