Ovechkin Returns With Vigor

Alex Ovechkin
With 11 more points, Alex Ovechkin can become the third Capital to record 100 or more in a season. (Steve Nesius - AP)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 25, 2006

TAMPA, March 24 -- Since he was benched briefly last Monday for operating outside of the Washington Capitals' system, left wing Alex Ovechkin has responded the way the coaching staff hoped he would.

In losses to the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning, Ovechkin recorded two goals and two assists. But more importantly, the Russian rookie backchecked with renewed vigor and was more disciplined when carrying the puck.

"I try to do what the coach says about how I must attack in the offensive zone and defensive zone," Ovechkin said after Thursday's 4-3 overtime loss in Tampa, which extended the Capitals' losing streak to eight games. If the Capitals lose to Carolina in Raleigh, N.C., on Saturday night, it will be their longest losing streak since 1981-82, when they lost 13 in a row.

Ovechkin's performance against the Lightning was electric. He fired a season-high 13 shots on net, recorded his first two-goal game since March 6, assisted on the Capitals' third goal and finished with a plus/minus rating of plus 2.

It was the type of performance Coach Glen Hanlon expects from Ovechkin (46 goals and 43 assists) nightly. It also was what the coach felt he wasn't getting from him in the Capitals' 4-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, when Hanlon benched Ovechkin for four shifts at the start of the third period. Ovechkin returned to the ice later and scored a goal with 11 seconds remaining.

"That's why we coach," Hanlon said at St. Pete Times Forum on Friday. "It wasn't blown out of proportion because of the magnitude of the player. [But] if you do something like sit somebody for a whole game or call somebody out, then it deserves national attention. It didn't even bother him."

Ovechkin confirmed that he's put the incident behind him, joking, "When I sit on bench [against Montreal], I was just relaxing."

Little of consequence is on the line for the reeling Capitals as the season winds down. Ovechkin, on the other hand, has plenty at stake.

With 11 more points, he can become the third Capital to record 100 or more in a season (Dennis Maruk had 136 points in 1981-82 and Mike Gartner had 102 points). And with five more goals, he will tie Joe Nieuwendyk for third all time in rookie goal scoring (51); with seven more he'll equal Mike Bossy for second place (53).

Then there's the matter of the Calder Trophy. Through Thursday's games, Ovechkin led Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby by 13 points and 15 goals. No player has ever failed to win the Calder after scoring 45 or more goals.

Ovechkin also is well on his way to achieving $2.85 million in performance-based incentives, the maximum allowed for rookies under the collective bargaining agreement. He already has earned a combined $637,500 in bonuses for surpassing 20 goals, 35 assists and 60 points. He also is on pace to earn a $2 million bonus for finishing among the NHL's top 10 in goals. Ovechkin, whose base salary is $984,200, ranks second in the league in goals, three behind former Capital and current New York Rangers right wing Jaromir Jagr, through Thursday's games.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company