EDMONTON — Sitting in the visitors’ dressing room at Rexall Place here Wednesday afternoon, Alex Ovechkin explained that his breakaway goal the night before in Winnipeg was more luck, really, than anything else. Maybe there was some good fortune involved, but it was the Washington Capitals captain who took advantage of it with a series of smart decisions and execution.
First, from his spot on the right point, he had to see the play develop on the left wing boards in the defensive zone as his teammates gained possession. Next he had to send his feet churning to blast across center ice, signal and receive the pass from Marcus Johansson. Then he blazed past two defensemen before switching from his forehand to his backhand to beat goaltender Ondrej Pavelec.
In nine games this year, Ovechkin has recorded as many goals as he did in the first 22 contests last season. He has scored 31 times in his past 30 games dating from his dynamic run at the end of last season — more than any such regular season span in his career to date, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The last player to record more than 30 goals in 30 regular season games was Pavel Bure from January through October 2001.
“I just feel good. I feel pretty good about my shot right now,” said Ovechkin, who recorded his eighth and ninth goals of the season Tuesday in the 5-4 shootout win against Winnipeg. “It’s always nice when you have opportunity to shoot the puck. It just feel good when puck goes in. You remember when I have that kind of slump where I can’t score the goal? I was frustrated because I like to score goals, no doubt about it. It’s much better to be in situation where you win the moment.”
Where there are goals, there is a relaxed Ovechkin, brimming with the seemingly effortless on-ice swagger the Capitals need from him.
“He’s been adjusting the last couple seasons, and he’s always had a great shot, but right now it looks like it’s hard for the goalies to read them and they’re coming from everywhere,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “He can get us all going when he’s scoring like this. Those two goals [in Winnipeg], our line didn’t really have many chances before that, but he finds a way. I don’t know how he does it, but the puck always finds the net somehow for him.”
Ovechkin’s recent success illustrates his ever-growing familiarity and confidence with his place on the right side of the ice, even as he and Coach Adam Oates work to continue finding new wrinkles in the form of gaps and holes he can exploit to create more scoring chances.
Within this hot start, Ovechkin has scored off faceoff wins, with one-timers on the power play, snap shots in the slot, rebounds in front and on a breakaway. He’s not scoring from only a few areas of the ice or after certain set plays but reading and reacting to make better use of his teammates and whatever play presents itself.
“He’s kind of playing the way he finished last year. He’s in a pretty good groove right now,” said Oates, who is careful to remind anyone that even with this success there are nuances of playing the right side that Ovechkin will continue to learn over time. But as Ovechkin is hitting a stride in the early going this year, Oates isn’t worried about opponents finding any real way to limit the star winger.
“I’ve always thought that it’s like playing against [Wayne Gretzky],” Oates said. “Force him to his backhand? Oh, come on. It doesn’t matter. The guy gets the puck 50 times a night. I don’t think you can take Ovi away. I don’t. If someone were to really, really try to stand beside him and shadow him, then the other four guys have got to do their jobs.”
So far no team has tried to smother Ovechkin in that fashion, at least not at even strength. On the power play, on which Ovechkin has recorded four of his nine goals this season, teams try to remove him as an option, but it’s usually in vain. Attempts to isolate Ovechkin only open up his teammates for quality chances.
Ovechkin understands the Capitals need balance, with goals coming from other players, both on the power play and at even strength. He hopes his success will help translate to the group.
“When I’m scoring it’s better for us if somebody else going to score more often, too, not just me,” Ovechkin said. “Because if somebody else going to score more goals, the attention will be on them, so I’ll have more opportunities and back and forth. That kind of second wave help everyone.”