Early into the second period Saturday night, Alex Ovechkin watched the play develop in the neutral zone and as Nicklas Backstrom gained control the puck the star winger began to cut through the middle of the ice so he would be in better position to receive a pass.
Ovechkin caught the puck as he turned up ice but as he crossed the offensive blue line he faced two Florida defensemen. Veteran blueliner Filip Kuba stepped up on Ovechkin and poked the puck away but lost control of it in the same motion. The Capitals’ captain powered behind Kuba, gained positioning near the loose puck and fired a tight angle shot over the shoulder of Jacob Markstrom for his second goal of the game.
“I try to beat [Kuba] and I thought he miss the puck,” Ovechkin said. “So I had time to see where goalie is. It was lucky goal but ill take it. It was good shot.”
It was the type of play that has seemed to come so easily for Ovechkin over the past 10 games as he’s come alive offensively, recording 13 goals and six assists in the past 11 games.
It was also the type of play that exemplifies everything Coach Adam Oates has been working on with Ovechkin this season. Ovechkin started the play on the right side, let his linemates gain control and feed him the puck with time and space to work with, followed up when his initial attempt to drive the net was derailed and then took the opportunity to put the puck on net.
“I love it,” Oates said of the second goal. “He was on right wing, involved in a play that wouldn’t have happened before. I love it. When things go your way you score those.”
Ovechkin recorded his second hat trick of the season and an assist Saturday night in Washington’s 4-3 win at the Florida Panthers. It was his fourth multi-goal game of the year, three of which have come during this 11-game streak that dates back to March 17 vs. Buffalo.
After his offensive outburst on Saturday, Ovechkin is second in the NHL in goals scored with 23, behind only Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos (25), who visits Verizon Center on Sunday evening. With 41 points, Ovechkin ranks seventh among all NHL scorers.
“We get used to our system, we play our way and when everybody get into the play and everybody play hard and play simple it’s going to work,” Ovechkin said when asked if anything changed to help spark this stretch. As a group, Washington has been finding its footing in Oates’s system over the past two to three weeks. The execution has been cleaner, the plays more precise and scoring chances a little more numerous.
“All of us, the whole team’s playing better,” Oates said. “That line’s playing better, Marcus is playing solid, Backie’s flying. They’re scoring goals, the power play I think has really helped him because the power play has been clicking. You know that you’re going to get one there and 5-on-5 is starting to click. Everything’s evolving and that’s the goal.”
In Ovechkin, though, it’s not hard to see his confidence rising. He’s grown into his place on the right side and doesn’t drift aimlessly over to the left wing. The chances that he couldn’t finish at the beginning of the season are going in. It makes it easier for any player to embrace a system when they can see the results.
When Ovechkin’s rolling, it serves as a renewable energy source for the rest of the Capitals. This is the dynamic, commanding on-ice presence they’ve come to expect of Ovechkin and when he meets those expectations, its hard not to follow suit – or simply enjoy the performance.
“You can tell he’s doing what we expect him to do, that’s the player we expect out of him and he’s doing a great job,” said goaltender Braden Holtby. “Maybe it’s a confidence thing. Who knows? But you can tell he’s back to peak form. This is the way he plays when he got himself his name. It’s fun to watch. He’s so powerful when he wants to be, and lately he’s really wanted to. No one can knock him off the puck.”