Ovechkin back to form as Capitals prepare to host Penguins
Alex Ovechkin is back.
So are his Capitals.
Ovechkin, hockey's hottest player, will lead his resurgent Capitals against a Penguins team that has won two of three — despite looking sluggish most of this month — Wednesday in a showdown for first place in the Metropolitan Division at the Verizon Center.
Slowing down Ovechkin will be the Penguins' primary focus.
“He's playing dynamic hockey,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Ovechkin has scored 17 goals in 19 games this season. Despite missing two games with an injury, he is on pace to score a career-high 73 goals.
His troubles between 2010 and 2012 — he scored only 70 goals in those two regular seasons, well off his historical pace — are a thing of the past. He claimed his third MVP trophy last season by scoring 32 goals in the lockout-shortened season, and while Penguins center Sidney Crosby was a lock to win that award before he suffered a broken jaw, Ovechkin's resurgence was evident.
Now, it is thunderous.
“I'm really not so surprised,” Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. “The skill was always there, the ability to score goals was always there.”
Ovechkin's career has covered three distinct chapters.
The first five seasons of Ovechkin's time with the Capitals saw the 28-year-old Moscow native win two MVPs while leading the Capitals to prominence. He and Crosby widely were regarded as the NHL's two best players.
Ovechkin averaged 54 goals per season during his first five seasons.
But something happened to Ovechkin during the next couple of seasons. He failed to hit the 40-goal mark in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons. Some Penguins suggested during that time that Ovechkin had become too predictable.
The current Ovechkin is the phenom who entered the league, a rambunctious superstar whose speed, physicality and shooting are difficult to handle.
“He's back to his old habits,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “He's shooting the puck from everywhere. That's part of what makes him so dangerous.”
Fleury has been terrorized by Ovechkin at times and also made one of the signature saves of his career — the granddaddy of statement-saves when he stopped Ovechkin's breakaway effort early in Game 7 of the epic 2009 playoff series between the Penguins and Capitals.
He knows what to expect and knows stopping Ovechkin won't be easy.
“It's such a heavy shot,” Fleury said. “When he shoots it, the puck gets so high so quickly. And he shoots the puck from farther back than where most players release the shot, it's so different. It lets him shoot from different angles. It's tougher to pick up. He's the best scorer in the game.”
The consensus among the Penguins was pretty clear after Tuesday's practice. They believe Ovechkin is looking to shoot the puck more frequently, and given that his shot remains dangerous, his shoot-first mentality is paying dividends.
“Their whole team is playing better,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “Their team was awful at the beginning of last year. But now the team is playing better, and they're getting him more looks.”
And he's making the most of those looks.
“Give him chances,” Niskanen said, “and he's going to get you.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.