Alex Ovechkin poised to capture 4th straight NHL goal-scoring title
Washington forward's ultimate goal is to win elusive 2nd playoff round
He's closing in on his fourth consecutive NHL goal-scoring title, helped the Washington Capitals clinch the ninth division title in franchise history and is a big reason they have locked up the top seed in the Eastern Conference for a third time.
So, what's left for Alex Ovechkin and his teammates?
Right now, 10 games left, I think we have to play more simple and be ready for the playoffs.- Capitals' star left-winger Alex Ovechkin
Let's start with Tuesday night's 4-2 win over the Senators in Ottawa, during which Ovechkin scored in his team's three-goal first period. That gave him a 43-39 lead in the goals race over league points leader Patrick Kane, and put him seven ahead of Dallas' Jamie Benn.
"Right now, 10 games left, I think we have to play more simple and be ready for the playoffs," Ovechkin, who is vying for his sixth Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy in the last nine seasons as goal-scoring champion, told reporters.
"In the second [period], we … tried to play fancy hockey and you can see it's not going to work like that. The first period, we put the puck in deep and we played hard. We tried to create offence and it worked well."
Capitals head coach Barry Trotz didn't like the number of turnovers or the time his charges spent in their own end in the second period and said it's up to the players to improve their game. That message should keep Ovechkin, who is tied with Dale Hawerchuk for 35th on the NHL's all-time goals list, focused down the stretch as needs four goals to catch Pat Verbeek for 34th.
The 30-year-old Ovechkin is on track for 73 points this season, which would represent his lowest total in an 82-game season since 2012 (65 points) and lowest as a Richard Trophy recipient.
Still, there has been a lot to like about the Russian left-winger's season. If Ovie maintains his plus-18 rating, it would be his best since the 2010-11 season (plus-24). He's also on pace for 405 shots, the most since the 2008-09 campaign when Ovechkin fired 528 shots, while only experiencing a slight dip in shooting percentage (12.1 from 13.4 per cent last season).
Among Ovechkin's more memorable games:
- On Oct. 20, he snapped a 1-1 tie with his fourth goal of the season and 900th point, the first Capitals player to reach the milestone.
- On Nov. 19, he scored his 484th NHL goal to break a tie with Sergei Fedorov for most goals by a Russian-born player.
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- On Jan. 10, with his parents in the crowd at Washington's Verizon Centre, Ovechkin became the fifth fastest player in NHL history to reach 500 goals, beating Ottawa's Andrew Hammond.
Following two curtain calls, Ovie added his 501st marker later in the game in a 7-1 rout.
- On Feb. 7, Ovechkin became the third player in NHL history to reach 30 goals in each of his first 11 seasons, beating Philadelphia goalie Steve Mason.
"The superstar in him is definitely there," Adam Oates, who coached Ovechkin for two years in Washington and played alongside Brett Hull in St. Louis, told The Canadian Press in January. "Watching him for two years close up reminded me a lot of Hully in the sense that Brett could shoot a puck from anywhere at any time.
"A lot of guys just shoot it when it's in their wheelhouse. He [Ovechkin] can shoot it from anywhere."
But for as productive as Ovechkin has been in the regular season and Stanley Cup playoffs — 36 goals and 70 points in 72 games — he has never appeared in a game beyond the second round. Ditto for Trotz, who had seven playoff appearances behind the bench with Nashville and last spring in Washington.
Poor supporting cast?
For Ovechkin, some believe he hasn't been blessed with a supportive cast of forwards, that his teammates haven't generated enough shots and goals over the years.
But could this be the year when Ovechkin and company break through? They are 28-6-2 at Verizon Center this season and have home-ice advantage through at least the first three rounds of the playoffs.
Washington also boasts a more balanced attack this season with eight forwards scoring at least 15 goals, with their shooting percentages ranging from 11.9 to 16.1.
Last May, the Caps blew a 3-1 series lead in Round 2 to the Rangers in a collapse Trotz told Postmedia Network in February "still hurts."
"Game 5 was the one that hurt us, to be honest with you," he added. "We had the Rangers on the ropes [until Chris Kreider scored at 18:19 of the third period to make it 1-1]. It changed the tide and they won in overtime [on a Ryan McDonagh goal] and sort of gained momentum. We didn't finish the deal."
Ovechkin and Trotz will have another chance to do so, starting April 13.