Alex Ovechkin saw a big swath of white netting. When the puck fluttered onto his stick, he slammed it home and proceeded to celebrate with the full Wayne Gretzky fist pump.
And of course an ear-to-ear, gap-toothed smile.
“It’s always nice to score goals. I have a couple chances the last couple games but I didn’t score,” Ovechkin said. “And finally it goes in. I’m kind of happy.”
Ovechkin hadn’t really looked like the former Maurice Richard Trophy winner through five games, and his two in Philadelphia weren’t exactly the kind of goals he piled up en route to leading the league in previous seasons.
But the goals count just the same. Plus, anytime the puck is going in the net for Ovechkin, it’s a boost to his game.
“He’s like any other hockey player — he’s more excited and he’s not as frustrated,” Boudreau said. “He’s playing with confidence rather than lack of. When he’s scoring, it makes life easier for him.”
And for everyone else. It was hard not to sense the energy level on the bench rising when Ovechkin scored — and then celebrated — Thursday night.
“I think his enthusiasm when he’s scoring rubs off on everybody,” said Boudreau, who also offered up a note of caution. “You just got to make sure you keep him in line because when he’s scoring he wants to go, go, go. We want at the same time to play the right way and win the right way.”
Given that the Caps are winning, it’s unfair to nitpick Ovechkin for not scoring the spectacular goals he once did. Production is there, and teammates (as well as opponents) expect him to get on a much sharper pace.
“It’s still early in the season, and I’m sure he’ll pick it up and he’ll do his thing,” Flyers rookie Matt Read said.
Everyone being so sure about Ovechkin’s scoring speaks to his talent but also his expectations. Signing a 13-year, $124 million contract and being one of the faces of the NHL will do that.
Goaltender Tomas Vokoun recognizes the kind of pressure Ovechkin is constantly under — and emphasized that it’s not easy.
“It’s a growing-up process. Obviously it takes some time,” Vokoun said. “He’s a great player and he’s going to be great player no matter what for many years to come. Maybe he didn’t score for a few games, but I guarantee you he will score a lot of goals this season.”
And do plenty of smiling at the same time.