Alex Ovechkin's journey in professional hockey has had its share of abrupt pullovers to the paved shoulder. Unlike his divisional and eternal rival Sidney Crosby, the Capitals star has experienced a cavalcade of coaching changes, key personnel moves and controversy (some of it concocted and some of it by his own making). But as he showed in a monster performance Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Ovechkin looks to be rounding into form – and with the Sochi Olympics some eight weeks away, the host Russians have to be elated.
Ovechkin's Caps dug themselves a 3-0 hole midway through the first period against the visiting Bolts, but Ovechkin scored to make it 3-1 before the first intermission. That was the first of four goals he'd score in front of a delirious home crowd – and the final one came with 33 seconds remaining in regulation to send the game to overtime (and an eventual 6-5 shootout win by Washington).
Ovechkin's outburst gave him 26 goals in 29 games this season. The rest of the Capitals combined have 72 goals. The hat trick was the 13th of his career, and the 28-year-old's pair of power play markers pushed him past Peter Bondra to set a new franchise record. And he played nearly 23 minutes. If I were a Russian hockey fan, that would be my biggest concern – that Caps coach Adam Oates is burning the candle at both ends with his best player and there may be a fatigue element by the time the Olympics begin in early February.
However, Ovechkin is looking like you could play him 30 minutes a night and he'd still be pumped up like a pizza-holding Jeff Spicoli by the time the Games begin. He looks like he knows full well the pressure is building and he welcomes it.
On a night where he was unstoppable, it was frightening to consider he may yet find another gear when national pride is on the line.