A day after clinching his fifth Southeast Division title in six years, Capitals star Alex Ovechkin spent a moment Wednesday morning reflecting on the “unbelievable” growth he and teammates Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green have gone through since becoming the faces of this franchise.
But then a reporter asked Ovechkin how he celebrated this latest achievement Tuesday night, and the 27-year-old winger offered up the sort of sarcastic answer that may be the best example yet that he has turned a new leaf this season.
“Yeah, like, we went to the bar. I got home at 7 in the morning. I get hammered,” Ovechkin deadpanned. “That’s kind of Russian celebration.”
Whether that’s what Ovechkin did in previous years will have to remain a mystery for now, as he walked off with a smirk on his face following that answer. But there’s no denying the Capitals captain is relishing the hot streak he and his team have orchestrated over the past month.
After feeding Backstrom for one goal and scoring an empty-net goal to close out Washington’s 5-3 win over Winnipeg Tuesday night, Ovechkin has 23 goals and 11 assists in his past 21 games, erasing any lingering doubt that he could recapture the form that earned him two Hart Trophies in a row.
The fans at Verizon Center have certainly appreciated the uptick in production, chanting “M-V-P” Tuesday night after Ovechkin tallied his empty netter. Washington’s captain noticed it as well.
“I hear it and it would be nice, but to be honest with you, I don’t focus about it. Last game, it’s more about winning,” said Ovechkin before being asked if it meant more given all the critics that emerged when he wasn’t producing.
“It means like people who have been all over me, they just hear it and they just can close their mouths and all that kind of stuff. If I’m gonna have a couple bad games, everyone is gonna be all over me again. I just tell myself, ‘It doesn’t matter what’s gonna happen.’ Don’t listen to the fans, you guys [reporters]. I just have to listen to my teammates and my coach and my family. …
“I’ve just grown up as a person. That’s the most important thing. When you grow up, you understand a little bit more and it gives you a little step forward the whole time.”
With 31 goals this year, Ovechkin is also in line to win his third Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s leading goal scorer. He’s three ahead of Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos with two games remaining in the regular season.
A growing debate, however, is whether Ovechkin deserves the Hart Trophy since Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby has missed the past 10 games with a broken jaw. Coach Adam Oates was again asked to weigh in Wednesday, specifically on whether the number of games played should matter. Crosby still leads the NHL in points with
59 56 as of Wednesday.
“Of course it does,” Oates said. “Would [Crosby] have been the MVP? Sure. But it matters. What is the magic number? I don’t know. It’s not for me to judge. He’s a fantastic player no matter what, but he’s been hurt and he’s missed a lot of games and his team has won every single night without them. I think that makes it tough for the voters, but like I said last week, I’m biased for my guy and I’m sure [Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma is] biased for his guy, and it’s up to [voters] to vote.”