WASHINGTON, D.C. — At the start of the season, Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin smiled his signature missing-tooth smile, proclaiming he was “still young” too when asked about the team’s incoming rookies. The 36-year-old has shown that youthful energy to open this season, and in turn, he’s off to the best start of his career yet.
Through six games, Ovechkin leads the team with seven goals and 12 points. He has tallied a point in each game so far, and also has five multi-point outings to boot. He also ranks first in the NHL in goals and second in points behind Connor McDavid (13).
Still, he’s looking to keep it going and isn’t ready to stop now.
“Of course you want to be better every time,” Ovechkin said of his play.
The Russian is coming off an odd shortened 2020-21 campaign. He spent time on COVID-19 protocol to open the year and suffered an injury down the stretch. However, he still managed to lead the team with 24 goals in 45 games, which would have translated to 44 goals in a regular 82-game season. He’s never scored under 20 goals in a campaign, and that shortened year was the first time he’s ever netted under 30 goals.
Coming back into camp, though, Ovechkin was determined. It was easy to see the extra jump he had on the ice as he pushed himself through camp, working relentlessly in drills and firing shots from the office.
“He’s certainly moving better,” head coach Peter Laviolette acknowledged. “You can tell that he’s had a good summer, good training camp. Everything was just a little bit off last year. Still had a good year last year, but you can see the jump this year… just looks like he’s moving better.”
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In the season opener, Ovechkin struck twice, once on the power play and then again shorthanded, marking his first SHG since 2009. He also passed Marcel Dionne for sole possession of fifth on the all-time scoring list.
“I just enjoy my time,” Ovechkin said of climbing the all-time goals list. “Of course, it’s huge privilege being on that list, but as I say all the time, game by game, day by day.”
Although Ovechkin is modest when it comes to the accomplishment, T.J. Oshie said it’s something that never gets old.
“You definitely appreciate it. Sometimes, I think you take for granted how often he scores,” Oshie said. “I saw the number of the goals, again, I feel like it’s been a while since I looked up and saw the actual number he was at. That’s a lot of goals. There’s a lot of really good players that never reach that many games. It doesn’t get old, and it really is special to be here for these milestones, to be his teammate for these milestones. I joke around with him that I’m going to tell my grandkids that I played with the Great Eight. We’re joking around, but it’s definitely true. It’s really an honor to be there while he’s passing these legends of our game.”
As a rookie, Hendrix Lapierre said it’s rewarding to watch Ovechkin, a player he idolized growing up, and that it’s still mesmerizing to see the way he carries himself and continues to produce as time goes by.
“You see a lot of things on TV growing up you watch him play but to see that in real life and to see the way he finds the ways to score goals is pretty impressive,” Lapierre said, adding, “He’s the greatest scorer of all time for a reason,” Lapierre said. “To share the ice from him and to learn from him and to see how he acts in the room, it’s pretty special… just the way the fans reacted when he scored and the celebration, the fire in his eyes, you know he wants that goal. It’s pretty good to watch him.”
Not only is Ovechkin producing, but he has done a solid job backchecking as well. Over time, the left-wing has improved when it comes to skating back and breaking up plays, while also helping his team in their own zone.
Washington is off to an impressive 4-0-2 start to the year. The Capitals rank seventh in goals-for per game (4.33) and have the sixth-least goals-against per game (2.20). The power play, which is 0-for-15 over the last five games, still needs work, but the team is still managing to produce at even strength.
With Ovechkin in top form, and Evgeny Kuznetsov finding the “smile” in his game once again, the Capitals are finding that keeping the core intact was the right call for now. And with the Stanley Cup window still slightly open, it could be enough to get them through yet again if those stars can keep the momentum going.