Maybe all it took was riding a camel for Alex Ovechkin to get over the hump after a rough first half of the NHL season.
Fresh off a family trip to Dubai during the Washington Capitals’ bye week and the All-Star break, Ovechkin has scored in all four games to extend his streak to five, his longest in nearly three years. After just eight goals through his first 43 games, the Russian superstar, captain and face of the franchise has heated up just in time to revive the possibility of breaking Wayne Gretzky’s career record that long seemed unapproachable.
Ovechkin now has 13 goals this season to give him 835 — 60 back of passing Gretzky.
“Certainly not surprised by it,” said Vancouver defenseman Ian Cole, who has played dozens of games trying to contain Ovechkin over the past decade. “He is the gold standard for goal scoring in NHL history, in my mind. Obviously Wayne Gretzky, he’s the ‘Great One,’ he’s the best, but what Ovi’s done in the time period that he’s played is absolutely remarkable. …
“His ability to continue to be a force in this league in more than one sense, but certainly the goal-scoring one, is amazing. His longevity, it’s incredible.”
Now 38, Ovechkin is back to producing like previous years. Last spring, he became the first player in NHL history to record 40 goals in a season 13 times and was scoring in his mid- and late-30s like no one since Phil Esposito in the 1970s.
“He’s playing at a real high level,” coach Spencer Carbery said. “I feel like he’s even skating a little bit more. I feel like there’s a little bit more jump in his step.”
Some of that jump seemed to be lacking before the break. As other elite athletes have found out, time remains undefeated, and hockey players rarely age gracefully.
With production not easy to come by from team-wide, the Capitals averaged just 2.3 goals through 46 games — the third-lowest in the league. Since Ovechkin’s goal streak started, they’re scoring 3.6 a game.
“It’s a positive, positive step because we need him,” Carbery said. “These are positive things, and you can feel him gaining more confidence as each one goes in and as he gets on a little bit of a roll.”
After an attempted pass from Ovechkin to him ended in a goal Sunday, longtime teammate T.J. Oshie smiled and said, “It’s nice to see the big man rolling.” He then pointed out that this run isn’t about good fortune as much as Ovechkin playing a well-rounded style and reaping the benefits on the scoresheet.
“He’s also doing a lot of little things that I think are helping us out defensively that are leading to offense and odd-man rushes,” Oshie said. “He’s coming back in the D-zone and stopping in a good area. It just sets our team up for success when all five guys are doing that. It’s honestly the stuff he’s doing away from the puck that letting his natural, phenomenal ability take over and start putting some points on the board.”
Ovechkin, who last season passed Gordie Howe for second on the career NHL goals list, said “it’s a good thing” when he can put the puck in the net. That’s happening a lot, as this is his first five-game goal streak since March 2021.
The rest is just playing smart hockey.
“I try to do my job and just play the right style of game and be out there and help the team to win,” Ovechkin said.
Even with Ovechkin scoring, the Capitals are scuffling. Facing a brutal post-All-Star-break schedule — including games against the top league’s current top four teams — they’ve lost six of seven and could soon become sellers ahead of the March 8 trade deadline.
But the return of vintage Ovechkin has provided some hope of going on a run and contending for a return to the playoffs.
“He’s hot right now,” goaltender Darcy Kuemper said. “We know he scores goals. To have him on the streak he’s on is really helping us. We’re all happy to see it.”
Perhaps it’s all thanks to Ovechkin going from the ice to the desert during the break. Carbery sure thinks that’s possible.
“Traditionally, he’s played well in the second half of seasons,” the first-year coach said. “This is no different for him to get a mental (break) away from the game, not think about the NHL, not think about the Washington Capitals, not think about hockey and be able come back refreshed and ready for the stretch run, and that looks like right now exactly what’s taking place.”
AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl