As hockey underwent a renaissance in Washington six years ago, Alex Ovechkin was the architect. His dynamic scoring prowess and natural ability captivated the city, the NHL and the world as he rose to superstardom, all while a resuscitated fan base at Verizon Center chanted “M-V-P!” on a regular basis.
Back then, those chants were justified as Ovechkin collected Hart and Maurice Richard trophies as the league’s most valuable player and leading goal scorer in 2008 and 2009. But as his point totals declined in each of the three seasons that followed, many wondered if Ovechkin had lost a step or was simply washed up, sentiments that have been echoed again this season.
A slow start for both Ovechkin and the Capitals did nothing to dispel those ideas, but as the regular season winds down, the Capitals are in position to win the Southeast Division, while Ovechkin leads the league with 28 goals.
By definition, the Hart Trophy is given to the “player judged to be the most valuable to his team.” The Capitals’ recent resurgence has directly correlated to the personal resurgence of their captain.
Ovechkin has scored 19 goals in his past 18 games and Washington is 14-3-1 in those games. When the streak began on March 14, the Capitals were in 14th place in the Eastern Conference and fourth place in the Southeast Division, trailing the first-place Hurricanes by 10 points.
After Tuesday’s 5-1 win over the Maple Leafs, the Capitals are in third place in the conference and first in the division with a four-point lead over the second-place Jets. Fifteen of Washington’s 19 losses this season share a common theme: Ovechkin failed to score a goal.
Ovechkin’s slow start (nine goals in his first 25 games) could hurt his MVP chances, but there is recent precedent that proves that a strong finish can circumvent that. Two years ago, Anaheim’s Corey Perry scored 19 goals in his last 16 games to capture both the Hart and Richard trophies, a feat that Ovechkin could duplicate this year.
Washington’s competition could also hinder Ovechkin’s chances to win MVP. The Caps star has scored 22 of his 28 goals against the weak Southeast Division and teams currently out of playoff contention. But Ovechkin doesn’t make the Caps’ schedule, and Washington has played more than half of its games against division foes and nonplayoff teams.
There are plenty of qualified candidates this season — Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, and the New York Islanders’ John Tavares — and Ovechkin should be included.
Over the past two months, there has been another — albeit small — renaissance in Washington, and it could lead to Ovechkin winning his third MVP.