Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are back where they belong.
The two superstars, who perform on Hockey Night in Canada
in separate early games on Saturday, are on top of the NHL heap once again after some uneasy times in their respective careers since the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
Crosby, whose Pittsburgh Penguins visit the Montreal Canadiens (CBC, CBCSports.ca
, 6:30 p.m. ET), has endured some ups and downs since he deposited his overtime winner for Canada in the gold-medal game against the United States almost four years ago.
He's missed 109 regular-season games with concussion problems
and a broken jaw. His head injury also forced him out of the entire 2011 playoffs. There's also the lack of post-season success by the Penguins in the last four years, and when they finally got their act together last spring they were swept in the East final by the Boston Bruins.
Ovechkin and his Washington Capitals, who visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday (CBC, CBCSports.ca
, 6:30 p.m. ET), also haven't had much playoff success. They have won just two series since the last Olympics.
Individually, Ovechkin has struggled for lengthy stretches since Vancouver, when his Russian team was eliminated in the quarter-finals with an embarrassing 7-3 loss to Crosby and Canada.
It wasn't long ago when hockey fans wondered if Ovechkin would ever find the form he exhibited in earlier in his career, when he scored 50 or more goals in four of his first five NHL seasons. He suffered through a horrible slump to begin last season, and that had fans asking "what's wrong with Ovechkin?"
But the star sniper went from the not-so Great 8 back to the Great 8 with an incredible finish and he's picked up where he's left off this season.
Dating back to last year, he's scored an outstanding 46 goals in his last 52 games and 42 in his last 44 games. This season, he has checked in with a league-leading 19 goals and 21 outings and his 26 points have him only four points behind Crosby in the Art Ross Trophy scoring race. Crosby has played in two more games than his Capitals counterpart.
"I always was here, I didn't go to Miami or Jamaica," Ovechkin said in a joking manner earlier this week when asked about how he busted out of his slump.
"When you score goals, when you make assists, when your name on the score list, of course everybody thinks you're back. But sometimes you don't have a great game, but you get a point and everybody thinks you play well. Sometimes you have to see in different positions - where you didn't score goals but you make hard work, make different play for your teammates. It's more than goals."
After his team's optional morning skate on Saturday, the 28-year-old Ovechkin was asked if this has been one of the best stretches in his career.
He downplayed that notion. Instead, he remarked that he was simply getting his share of opportunities - he leads the league in shots on goal with 117 (the next closest is Zach Parise at 101 and he's played two more games) - and credited the play of his linemates Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson as well as Washington's power play.
There is no doubt that when Washington head coach Adam Oates moved his right-shooting star from left to right wing last season, Ovechkin needed time to adjust. He also seems excited about performing at home at the Olympic Games in a few months.
Don't forget, Ovechkin didn't think twice before hopping on a trans-Atlantic flight to run with the Olympic torch
a few days before the NHL season was to open. He took some heat, but then returned and got off to a good start.
"Of course, [Sochi is] in the back of my mind," he said. "Of course, I'm thinking about it. Right now, I'm concentrating on the Capitals. When it's going to be close to Sochi I will be thinking about Sochi [more]."
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