But it is clearly a process. Sunday, Ovechkin began the game with two grinding linemates in Jay Beagle and Joey Crabb. By early in the second, he rejoined standby center Nicklas Backstrom and wing Troy Brouwer. Regardless of who he plays with, he still makes Verizon Center tense up like no one else can — left wing, right wing, power play, even strength, whatever.
So when he received the puck on the left wing early in the second, the gasp came from so many of the fans who filled the building. Remember: He’s the reason they wear red. He’s the reason Sunday’s game was the 156th straight sellout here. So there was angst with each rush. Maybe this could be the time. Maybe this would be a goal. Maybe this will get him going.
On that drive, Ovechkin fumbled the puck away in traffic through the middle. But he was in the process of establishing himself as . . . well, himself.
“When he moves his feet, he’s the best player in the world,” forward Jason Chimera said. “That’s what he can do. . . . When he does that, people follow.”
Parsing Chimera’s words might indicate there are times he doesn’t move his feet, so he’s not the best player in the world. Ovechkin needs, Chimera was saying, to provide the reason to follow.
“He’s one of our marquee guys,” Oates said. “He has to play well. Every team’s sta . . .” And with the word “stars” halfway out his mouth, Oates stopped himself. “Good players have to play well. They do. And no exception here.”
There once was no question that Ovechkin was a star, not just in Washington, but across the NHL. He embraced the role, and the Caps embraced him as theirs. The Capitals now have more rapid-fire games, four before the Super Bowl kicks off. Will they help continue the exhale, for Ovechkin and the entire team?
“It’s done now,” Ribeiro said. “You’ll see him skate better, play better, and from there, he’s probably going to score more open nets than the one he missed today.”
He smiled, because for one day early in this season with the Caps, that was the appropriate response.