By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 20, 2009
While fans debate where Alex Ovechkin's goal Wednesday night against Montreal ranks on a résumé replete with breathtaking goals, there's no argument -- at least inside the Washington Capitals' locker room -- about who has the lead in this season's Hart Trophy race.
"It would be pretty hard to go against him," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We have some good players surrounding him. But if you look at what he's done in the third period and the winning goals and at crunch time, that's when you need your guys the most. And he's there all the time."
"I hope he gets two [MVP's] in a row," he added with a laugh. "Then we'll work on the Conn Smythe," awarded to the playoff MVP.
No player has won MVP in consecutive seasons since goaltender Dominik Hasek did it as a member of the Buffalo Sabres in 1997 and 1998. Ovechkin, however, is making a strong case to match the feat.
He leads the league in goals (42) and is second in points (75), behind only Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin (84). More telling, though, are Ovechkin's statistics when the game is on the line. He has more goals in the third period than anyone else (20) and was tied with San Jose's Patrick Marleau for the league lead in game winners (9 entering play last night).
And, of course, he has produced highlights such as the goal he scored in the first period against the Canadiens. Ovechkin beat Montreal's Roman Hamrlik by passing the puck to himself off the boards -- while pirouetting to avoid the defenseman. Then Ovechkin chipped in the puck as he slid on his side past goaltender Carey Price.
A day later, the Capitals still were in awe.
"The falling, the deking and getting the puck in from the seat of your pants, you've seen that a lot," Boudreau said. "But it was the backhand pass in the neutral zone [around Hamrlik] and then staying at full speed that was quite remarkable."
The combination of a crisp line change for the Capitals and a sloppy one for the Canadiens was a big part of the play, too, Boudreau said.
"It was a great line change by us," Boudreau said. "We constantly harp on when you change you come off hard and you go on hard. If [Ovechkin] hadn't gone on hard, he wouldn't have been able to touch it on his back hand."
Boudreau also sympathized with Hamrlik, saying: "Who expects that? Maybe he's never seen that move in the 15 years he's been in the NHL."
As of yesterday afternoon, Ovechkin's goal had been viewed 100,000 times on YouTube, 20,000 on the Capitals' Web site and had peaked at 17th in Google's most-searched list.
It reminded many of his teammates of Ovechkin's signature goal three seasons ago in Phoenix, where he guided the puck into the net while sliding on his back. Others mentioned Ovechkin's tally against Buffalo earlier this season, when he skated through three Sabres en route to depositing the puck -- and himself -- into the net for the winner.
"He has scored quite a few beautiful goals, so it's hard to rank that one," Sergei Fedorov said. "Just the power where he cut to the middle and knocked the guy off his skates and still found the puck and put it in the appropriate corner. That's pretty amazing I think. That spin-o-rama in the middle, that was just the beginning."
Injured teammate Viktor Kozlov watched the game from the locker room, but Ovechkin's goal was no less impressive on television, he said.
"He proved again that he is a great player who can do such amazing things," Kozlov said. "He's leading the team, not in the points, but he's a leader on our team. He's doing his job great. It was an amazing goal."
Even after watching the replay a number of times, Ovechkin said he still isn't sure Wednesday's goal rates at the top of his list of top tallies.
"Maybe," he said with a shrug and a smile. "It was luck, too. I fell, I shoot different side and I got it, so it's a little bit luck. It just happened."
When asked about winning another Hart Trophy, Ovechkin quickly changed the subject to another trophy he wants even more.
"There's a lot of a games left in the regular season so it's tough to [think] about your personal awards," he said. "Right now we're in a situation where everybody has to think about the team. We want to go to playoffs, try to play hard and go how far you can. If I win MVP, it will be good. I want to win everything. But right now I want to win Stanley Cup."
Capitals Notes: Kozlov is expected to miss his seventh straight game tonight against Colorado because of a groin muscle injury. . . . Ovechkin did not practice after taking a shot off of his left foot Wednesday, but said he will play tonight. . . . Goaltender José Theodore is expected to face the Avalanche, his team for the previous two-plus seasons, for the first time since signing with Washington in the offseason.