Patrik Laine was sitting on the edge of the Winnipeg Jets bench. Alex Ovechkin was casually standing on the ice during a stoppage in the Capitals’ game in Winnipeg last month. Ovechkin skated over to where Laine was seated for a lighthearted moment between competitors.
“You still want to play video games?” Ovechkin asked him, referencing a Players’ Tribune story in which Laine expressed a desire to have a Call of Duty session with Ovechkin, his idol growing up.
The two have a different competition to settle first. Entering Monday’s game between Washington and Winnipeg at Capital One Arena, Ovechkin and Laine are tied for the NHL lead with 40 goals apiece, a Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy race that will come down to the wire with fewer than 15 games left in the season.
“If you’re close to top three or top five, of course you pay attention,” Ovechkin said. “I think it’s normal thing. I don’t believe when someone says, ‘I don’t care about the stats,’ and all of this kind of stuff. Of course they want points, they want goals. It’s a normal thing, especially if you’re a forward.”
Said Laine: “It’s always been one of my dreams to win it. It’s something that every goal scorer dreams about. … There’s a lot of things that can happen, but that’s good motivation to me. With our team goals, it’s a good motivation for me.”
Laine, a 19-year-old Finn, studied Ovechkin highlights and became a Capitals fan as a result. He loved how physical Ovechkin played, and he started to model his game after him. But he has emerged as an elite goal scorer in his own right. Through 141 NHL games entering Monday, Laine has 76 goals and 51 assists. Ovechkin had 86 goals and 92 assists in his first 141 NHL games. Since Laine’s rookie year last season, he has the most goals of any NHL player. He also has 15 goals in his past 11 games.
Ovechkin is just two goals away from 600, enjoying a resurgent season at 32. He has his sights set on his eighth 50-goal campaign, and he would be just the fifth player to reach that mark at 32 or older. Asked Monday whether he sees a “young Ovi” in Laine, Ovechkin’s response was immediate. “I’m still young,” he said before pointing out how he shaved recently. But their powerful shots are often compared.
“They are able to sort of contort and put pucks off their stick in areas where it’s hard to read,” Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said. “It’s got some bite to it when it comes at you, and it gets on the goalies quick. It’s hard to react to. Both of them are exceptional at it. Ovi’s done it for a long, long time. Laine has done it for the last two years, and it looks like he might be able to do it for a long, long time. So it’ll be pretty special. You’ve got Ovi, who’s the king at it, and a young guy who’s making some noise around the league. …
“I think Ovi will be dialed in today. He’s very competitive in these situations. You’ve seen it right through his career. I expect Ovi to be jumping tonight.”
Here’s how the Capitals are expected to look against the Jets on Monday night in Capital One Arena:
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Tom Wilson
Brett Connolly-Nicklas Backstrom-Andre Burakovsky
Jakub Vrana-Lars Eller-T.J. Oshie
Chandler Stephenson-Jay Beagle-Devante Smith-Pelly
Scratched: Alex Chiasson, Travis Boyd
Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Michal Kempny-John Carlson
Brooks Orpik-Jakub Jerabek
Scratched: Madison Bowey, Christian Djoos
Philipp Grubauer (starter)