By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 5, 2009
With a second consecutive goal-scoring title all but assured, Alex Ovechkin has shifted his focus to retaining another award: the Art Ross Trophy, given to the league leader in points.
With a goal and two assists in Friday's 5-4 overtime loss to Buffalo, Ovechkin raised his season points total to 104, four shy of Pittsburgh all-star Evgeni Malkin.
Malkin's lead had swelled to 11 after two goals and three assists in a 6-2 win over the Atlanta Thrashers on March 17. Since the Atlanta outburst he has six points in six games. He was shut out in the Penguins' 3-2 overtime loss at Carolina last night.
Malkin's teammate, Sidney Crosby, was third entering last night with 99 points.
"It will be great if I catch him and I win it," said Ovechkin, who has 55 goals and 49 assists to the 34 goals and 74 assists Malkin has. "I like the competition. So why not?"
Ovechkin has amassed 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in the past five games. After today's game against the Thrashers at Verizon Center, he'll have three games remaining.
"It's good having two Russians on top," Thrashers all-star Ilya Kovalchuk said. "All of Alex's team is going to help him. So hopefully they are going to set him up and make it interesting."
If Ovechkin succeeds, he'll become the first player to win back-to-back scoring titles since Jaromir Jagr won the Art Ross four times in a row from 1997-98 to 2000-01. Last season, Ovechkin amassed 112 points to become the first Russian to win the Art Ross.
"It's getting down to the end," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. Alex "would be lying if he said he's not looking at the papers and seeing stuff. I know when I played, I definitely took notice of the standings and where I was when it came to scoring."
Ovechkin has played in three fewer games than Malkin after missing two games to be with his ailing grandfather in Moscow and another with a bruised heel. And both players have soft remaining schedules.
The Capitals have two games remaining against the Thrashers, who have won 11 of their past 14 games but remain 13th in the Eastern Conference. Ovechkin has also had more success against the Thrashers than any other opponent, having amassed 45 points (23 goals, 22 assists) in 28 games.
Washington's other two games are against Tampa Bay and Florida, both of whom would not be in the playoffs if the season ended yesterday.
Malkin's final four games are against Florida, Tampa Bay, the NHL-worst New York Islanders and Montreal. All but the Canadiens would be out of the playoffs if the season ended yesterday.Fedorov Rests
Veteran center Sergei Fedorov left practice after only a few minutes yesterday and limped to the locker room. Boudreau said Fedorov injured his leg when he blocked a shot Friday.
"It was a little sore," Boudreau said. "So we figured we would give him the day off to get it better. He thinks he'll be able to go" today.
Forward Viktor Kozlov returned to practice yesterday after missing most of the third period and overtime against the Sabres with an undisclosed lower body injury. Kozlov, who has been hampered by groin muscle injuries this season, said he expects to play today.
Although enforcer Donald Brashear said his sprained left knee continues to improve, he does not expect to play today. It will be the 10th consecutive game he has missed.
With goaltender Kari Lehtonen sidelined with an upper body injury, the Thrashers are expected to start Johan Hedberg for the fourth straight game. José Theodore, meanwhile, is expected to get the nod in Washington's net.