Ovechkin Keeps On Scoring
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Between periods of the Capitals' frantic 6-4 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers at Verizon Center, Washington's final home game of a sometimes difficult rebuilding season, majority owner Ted Leonsis said he hopes to see his team return to the playoffs "within a couple of years."
"My first season owning the team and this season have been my favorite seasons, because we had a team that played every single minute of every single game," he said. "I think we've played [forty-two] one-goal games. That's an amazing statistic."
Leonsis reiterated that the Capitals, who will finish last in the Southeast Division, would not make a "splash" in this summer's free agency market, but would instead stick to their plan of building a contender through the draft while using fabulous rookie Alex Ovechkin as their centerpiece.
Ovechkin netted his 52nd goal of the season early in the third period, set up the game-winner moments later with his 53rd assist, then backed up Leonsis's sentiments about the playoffs. Except he was more bullish.
"I hope next season will be different," Ovechkin said. "Next season we go to playoffs for sure."
Confidence was overflowing in the Capitals' locker room after an emotional victory. And why not? They won for the third time in four games and extinguished the flickering playoff hopes of the rival Thrashers.
Atlanta seized a 1-0 lead 11 seconds into the game and led 4-3 entering the third period. But Ovechkin evened things at 2 minutes 36 seconds, then assisted on Brian Willsie's go-ahead score at 8:58. Goaltender Olie Kolzig (38 saves) made sure it stayed that way.
Ovechkin enters tonight's season finale in Tampa one goal short of equaling Mike Bossy's mark of 53 goals, the second-highest total for a first-year player. Teemu Selanne's record of 76 is out of reach.
"Not only is Alex better individually," Leonsis said. "There's a reason [Chris] Clark and [Dainius] Zubrus are having their best years. The best players make the players around them better. And they have the best work habits, and they are coachable. Alex is all of those things. He really sets the tone in the room. He has a charisma that makes people want to be around him."
Leonsis was all smiles in the locker room afterward. As was Kolzig, who earned his 20th win and left wing Matt Pettinger, who scored his 19th and 20th goals.
After being winning the Three Stars of the Year award, Ovechkin was serenaded by the crowd of 16,891, which was well above the Capitals' average of 13,905. It was the third-largest crowd this season.
But Washington will finish 28th in home attendance in the NHL's first season after the yearlong lockout. Only the Chicago Blackhawks (13,270) and New York Islanders (12,661) -- both of whom also are out of the playoffs -- drew fewer fans on average this season.