VANCOUVER, B.C. – When the Washington Capitals visit the Vancouver Canucks Friday, the game will feature a star forward who’s second in league scoring and a viable Hart trophy candidate.
But it isn’t Alexander Ovechkin. Despite playing without his twin brother and linemate for much of the season, Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin is on pace for his first 100-point campaign and sits ahead of names such as Sidney Crosby, Dany Heatley, and even Ovechkin on the NHL’s scoring list.
But ask Sedin about his Ovechkin-like start to the season, and you’re likely to get an answer that doesn’t carry quite the level of flash typically associated with the Russian sniper.
“I don’t know, I never really put any (emphasis on) point production,” Sedin said Thursday.
“I think I’ve played good, I think I’ve been consistent this year.”
Sedin leads the Canucks with 15 goals and 28 assists for 43 points in 34 games this season. He appears poised to smash his career-highs of 22 goals and 82 points, both set last year.
Sedin is the only Vancouver player to have hit the 30-point plateau and is in the midst of an eight-game point streak.
He’s also tallied three game-winning goals for a team battling to climb into the Western Conference’s top eight.
“He’s carried the load offensively, no doubt,” said Vancouver captain Roberto Luongo.
“He’s produced a lot. And even when his brother wasn’t here with his injury he produced and showed he’s a very capable player and one of the best in the league.”
When brother Daniel broke his foot Oct. 7 against Montreal, it marked the first time one Sedin would be in the lineup for an extended period without another.
Henrik, known as the playmaker, didn’t falter. He scored 10 goals in 18 games and added eight assists.
“I wasn’t too worried when I got injured. I knew he could play by himself but he put up a lot of points,” said Daniel.
“He’s a great passer and he’s found the back of the net this year too.”
While Henrik has gotten off to the finest start of his career, Ovechkin has hardly been a slouch.
The 24-year-old two-time most valuable player has 21 goals and 17 assists for 38 points in 26 games.
Ovechkin has missed time with knee and upper body injuries this season. He was also suspended two games earlier this month for a knee-on-knee hit on Carolina’s Tim Gleason.
But Thursday at practice, Ovechkin hardly seemed like a player concerned with injury or disciplinary issues.
Wearing a red practice jersey, he cheered wildly after Boyd Gordon scored on a deflection.
A few minutes later, he playfully whacked at goaltender Jose Theodore’s pad with his stick, long after the puck had been cleared.
After practice, Ovechkin told reporters he looks forward to returning to Vancouver in February to compete in the 2010 Olympics.
“Of course you get excited. You can see (the) Olympic logo everywhere and you start to realize this is an Olympic city,” he said.
“But still, it’s two months away from it so you just have to concentrate right now on your game.”
Friday’s game will mark the first time Ovechkin has visited Vancouver since Oct. 27, 2006. The Capitals lost that game 3-2 after Ovechkin rang his shootout attempt off the post.
This week’s game has generated just as much buzz as the one three years ago and Ovechkin says he’s looking forward to playing Vancouver – Luongo in particular.
“It’s going to be a pretty hard battle for me and my team but it’s going to be pretty fun,” Ovechkin said.
Countered Luongo, “He’s the top player in the league, maybe top two players in the league. He can generate offence on his own and he’s very dangerous. That being said, personally I enjoy the challenge of playing him.”
Vancouver, which was hit hard by injuries to start the season, may soon have some familiar faces back in the lineup.
Both defenceman Alex Edler, who has missed four games since suffering a shoulder injury Dec. 8, and forward Michael Grabner, who has missed 20 games with an ankle injury took part in practice Thursday.
Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said Edler’s status has been changed from week to week to day to day.
“First practice with the team today, I felt pretty good,” Edler said. “Passing, shooting, all feels good.”
Grabner, who fractured his ankle during a pre-game soccer warm-up, said he’s close to 100 per cent.
“My ankle feels fine,” he said. “I’ve just got to get back in shape.”
Vigneault said there is no timetable yet on Grabner’s return.