By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 22, 2005
Alex Ovechkin's mornings used to begin with a cup of hot tea and a ham and egg sandwich prepared by his mother. But that changed Monday when Ovechkin's parents, Tatiana and Mikhail, returned to Russia after a month-long stay in Washington to help their 20-year-old son get accustomed to life in a foreign land.
"When I wake up now, I don't have breakfast," Ovechkin joked yesterday. "I try to make something, but it's no good.
"I just go to Starbucks and eat chocolate."
Fortunately for the Capitals, Ovechkin's first few weeks in the NHL have gone smoother than the first few days of cooking for himself.
It's probably too early to begin handicapping the Calder Trophy race, which no Capital has ever won. But the rookie of the year award shouldn't be handed to Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby just yet -- especially if Ovechkin continues to score at, or even near, his current pace.
After eight games, Ovechkin has six goals (tied for third entering last night's contests) and 38 shots (also third). The left wing also led all rookies in points (10), goals and shots, despite regularly drawing the attention of the opposing team's top defensemen and checking forwards.
"I want to win the rookie award," Ovechkin said. "Crosby and [Buffalo's Thomas] Vanek are good players. We have the same chances. We must prove who is the best. I don't know who is best. But I try to be best."
He's trying awfully hard, as evidenced by his two-goal performance in the Capitals' 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on Thursday. Ovechkin scored less than two minutes into the game to put the Capitals ahead, but a disastrous second period left them trailing, 3-1, after the Panthers took 28 shots -- a team record -- to Washington's six.
Although the game appeared out of the Capitals' reach in the final minutes, Ovechkin made things interesting by skating three-quarters of the rink, weaving his way through nearly the entire Panthers team and eventually beating star goalie Roberto Luongo with a wrist shot to make the score 3-2. Too little, too late? Perhaps. But to those who watch him on a daily basis, teammates included, it was a reminder of Ovechkin's rare ability to single-handedly change a game, and his intense desire to win.
"There are lots of expectations for him," said right wing Brian Willsie, his linemate and roommate on the road. "And he's living up to them."
Coach Glen Hanlon said: "We don't expect him to go end to end. We expect him to play within the parameters of our offense. [But] from the redline to the goal line, guys like Alexander have the green light to do whatever they want, with the exception of turning the puck over."
With every highlight-reel goal, the spotlight shifts from Crosby, the 2005 No. 1 overall pick, to Ovechkin, the first choice in 2004. Newspapers across North America are printing stories about him, and cable sports networks are replaying his spectacular scores.
"I've never seen or played with anyone like that," well-traveled left wing Jeff Friesen said.
Since scoring two goals in the season opener, Ovechkin has skated with the confidence of a seasoned veteran. Now, if he can only find that comfort level off the ice. Ovechkin lives with his 23-year-old brother, Mikhail, and has teammate Dainius Zubrus's cell phone on speed dial. Zubrus advises him on everything from where to eat to traffic intersections to avoid.
"Zubie helps me with everything," Ovechkin said. "I don't know something, I just say, 'Hey Zubie, help me.' If I want to go somewhere, I just call him and ask him where [to] go and he tells me."
Although Zubrus speaks Russian, Ovechkin often insists that the two speak in English. Ovechkin's grasp of the language has improved significantly over the past two months.
"I try to practice English all the time," he said. "At dinner with Zubie and other players, I speak English. I must get better."
Ovechkin is just as demanding of himself on the ice.
Asked about his recent scoring tear, Ovechkin said: "I can score more."
So what's holding him back?
He pointed at his temple: "I don't know. It's me, the reason."