When Alex Ovechkin returned to Washington D.C. from Russia to prepare for a new season, he had a rather slimmer frame than what fans were used to. It was also a much earlier arrival than fans were used to. Instead of arriving the weekend before training camp started, Ovechkin arrived at the tail-end of the month of August. When he took the ice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex for some preliminary workouts, he was flying all over the place and was full of energy.
Some people had their doubts, from past experiences to those who chirp “oh it’s just preseason, everybody enters the season in great shape”. However, from Opening Night on, Ovechkin has silenced the critics, or at least made them speak less.
After the Capitals were eliminated in the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Pittsburgh Penguins in May, General Manager Brian MacLellan pointed out that Ovechkin needed to adapt to the speed of the NHL game. Judging by the first four games and the preseason workouts noted above, it appears that Ovechkin has answered the challenge. In the Capitals’ first game of the season in Ottawa, Ovechkin wasted no time making an immediate impact. Trailing 3-1 in Ottawa heading into the third period, Ovechkin scored two goals to tie it. After the Senators retook the lead, Ovechkin netted his third to tie the game and force overtime. He also contributed in the shootout by adding another goal.
The very next game, Ovechkin had another hat trick. This time on his home ice in the first period. Consecutive hat tricks, each one in the same period, is something the NHL hadn’t seen in 100 years. Penguins star Sidney Crosby hasn’t achieved that. Neither has Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane, Edmonton Oilers phenom Connor McDavid, St. Louis Blues forward Vladamir Tarasenko, or any other superstar one can name.
“It’s a fun time when you play like that and when you’re feeling it, it’s fun to play,” Ovechkin told reporters after the Caps’ home opener.
Ovechkin also scored a goal in the Capitals 3-2 loss to the Penguins on Wednesday night, further showing he loves to score on the big stage. In all, it was his eighth goal of the season through four games. According to Capitals PR, this stretch marks the most goals Ovechkin has scored through the first four games of the season. He also leads the NHL in goals scored this season.
Keep in mind that this stretch came not in the middle of his prime, but towards the end of it, in his 13th season in the league, at age 32. The hot start also came after one of the toughest offseasons for the “Great Eight”. An offseason that came after another crushing loss to the Penguins and watching his rival (Crosby) hoist the Stanley Cup for the third time in his career; an offseason in which writers outside of Caps Nation and maybe a few within, wrote column after column about why the Capitals needed to trade their star; an offseason in which some fans told me that they needed to strip the captain’s “C off of his sweater.
In the grand scheme of things, those story lines were just a bunch of hoopla. The Capitals need Ovechkin and Ovechkin needs the Capitals. And Ovechkin deserves the “C”. His fast start has inspired everyone to step up. From young Russian Evgeny Kuznetsov, to the young players on the team who are still adjusting to life playing on the NHL level. With the first half of his career gone, Ovechkin knows time is running out if he wants to bring a Stanley Cup to Washington and it’s good to see him working his butt off now.
By Michael Marzzacco