Following a game in which Alex Ovechkin defended a teammate to rally not just the Capitals themselves but the Verizon Center crowd in its entirety and scored his league-best 28th goal of the season, Coach Adam Oates was asked about the star winger.
Specifically, does Oates believe that Ovechkin is the NHL’s most valuable player?
“I’m obviously very biased about that. So my answer would be, yeah, absolutely,” Oates said. “Obviously, Sidney Crosby is another candidate, for sure. He had such a scoring lead. But there’s also – I think you gotta factor in the fact that he’s missed a lot of games. That’s not really for me to say though. That’s you [the media].”
That Oates’s comments came after Ovechkin was a consistent presence throughout Washington’s 5-1 win over the Maple Leafs was coincidence. Ovechkin’s showing Tuesday night was yet another chapter in what has been a month of dominance.
With a goal and an assist against Toronto, Ovechkin has 19 goals and nine assists over the past 18 games. During that stretch, the Capitals are 14-3-1, first in the Southeast Division and Ovechkin sits atop the league in goals scored and fourth in points with 48.
In addition to the two points, Ovechkin leapt to the defense of Nicklas Backstrom late in the first period when the Capitals’ top center was sent into the boards by Maple Leafs forward Jay McClement.
“That’s great to see Ovi doing that. You know, that’s – that’s a leadership role that he’s taking on, and that’s huge,” Braden Holtby said. “It’s not just a little tap. He was meaning that that’s not going to happen again, and it was great to see it really got our team going.”
His rush to confront McClement, the penalty that followed and successful Washington penalty kill that thwarted it brought life and enthusiasm to the home team’s game. (Plenty more on how Ovechkin’s actions sparked the Capitals in the win in my game story for Wednesday’s paper.)
He also drew a penalty with his deft stick handling early in the second period, passing through Jake Gardiner’s skates to himself and forcing Nikolai Kulemin to hook him. Ovechkin set up Erat for a tip in five seconds after the power play expired.
“Just – feel good. You know, what can I say?” Ovechkin said. “It’s just the confidence and just a moment in the game. They just put the pressure on me and I had to make a move.”
While Ovechkin downplayed his actions Tuesday night, there’s no denying how his recent play has been a main reason why Washington has been able to move from 14th into a playoff position.
“Alex has really led our team. You see it every night now. You saw his energy tonight,” Oates said. “And obviously every team that we play they have to focus on him and he’s in a good place and his linemates have played great for him and he’s helped them. I think that line’s carried us and our power play’s been working so he gets his touches there. Lot of positive things.”