“For a determined guy, he seems to be even more determined when it gets down to the nitty gritty,” Capitals coach Glen Hanlon said. “When this organization does make the playoffs, you’re likely going to see someone who plays even greater hockey.” The reigning rookie of the year is right on track, if the last two games are any indication.
First, the Capitals went to Philadelphia – where they hadn’t won in their previous 16 trips – and beat the Flyers 5-3 on Saturday night.
Then, against visiting Ottawa – unbeaten in its last eight games at Washington – the Capitals fell behind 3-0 in the opening 12 minutes, yanked starting goalie Olie Kolzig, and came all the way back to win 4-3 in overtime Monday night.
Washington hasn’t been in the post-season since 2003, but with Ovechkin leading the way, getting back to the playoffs is not out of the question.
“We never give up,” Kolzig said. “Last year, going into the season, it was, ‘Let’s go out and have some fun and then see what happens.’ Now we believe we can actually win games.”
Ovechkin scored two goals in each of those past two victories, including one from a seemingly impossible angle with 24.4 seconds left in regulation against Ottawa to force overtime.
So was he thrilled to help end the streaks of futility against the Flyers and Senators, even if both of those clubs are going through tough times?
“We don’t know the history,” Ovechkin said. “We just come and play every game and try to win every game and we’re getting better all the time.”
Both he and his team are.
Washington now owns consecutive wins for the first time this season and is 6-4-4 for 16 points. That was good enough to enter Tuesday tied for second in the Southeast Division and tied for the fifth-most points in the Eastern Conference.
The season is young, of course, but so is Washington’s roster, so any early signs of progress are important. This is a team that finished 29-41-12 and in last place in 2005-06; the Capitals also were at the bottom of their division in 2003-04.
“Now we know we can score, and that’s the difference,” said captain Chris Clark, who netted the winning goal to cap the rally against Ottawa. “We can come back and actually win these games, not just fight hard and make it respectable.”
There are several ways in which the Capitals are better, including the key off-season additions of defenceman Brian Pothier and winger Alexander Semin (whose 15 points rank second on the club).
But the biggest reason for the optimism, of course, is Ovechkin.
“He’s like a Rocket Richard-type player,” New York Rangers forward Brendan Shanahan said. “He kind of zeroes in on the goal and is very hungry to score.”
During the pre-season, there was plenty of talk from teammates and opponents about how tough it would be for the kid called “Ovie” to follow up his rookie of the year showing of 52 goals and 106 assists.
After all, foes would key on the Russian winger night after night, and the pressure to perform would surely result in a sophomore slump, right?
Thanks to his current streak of four straight multiple-point games, Ovechkin has 18 points through 14 games – three points ahead of last season’s pace.
“Are you kidding me? It’s a delight to see a guy with such speed and who knows where to go with the puck and knows how to get it on net,” said backup goalie Brent Johnson, who stopped all 21 shots he faced against Ottawa. “It’s great having him on this team.”