DETROIT — It was fun to watch Alex Ovechkin turn Duncan Keith inside out for a highlight-reel goal Sunday, but the rest of his game against the Chicago Blackhawks was far from praise-worthy. The Washington Capitals captain struggled on the defensive end and was again on the ice for some goals against in a loss.
Monday at the Detroit Red Wings was different. Not only did Ovechkin score twice, but he was a force all over the ice and, most importantly, didn't try to do it all himself.
That's the Ovechkin the Caps want to see.
"That's the Ovi that everybody knows and really, really loves," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "We like to see that. You just notice that he's shooting the puck, he's going to the net, he's driving hard. He's not turning the puck over. He's making sure that the plays are getting at least deep. If he's going to shoot it, he's going to make sure it gets deep."
Fundamentals to go along with flash. No one will ever confuse Ovechkin with superb defensive forward Pavel Datsyuk, who has Selke Trophies like the Caps left wing has Hart and Art Ross Trophies.
But the Caps just need him to be capable in the defensive end. They need him to be explosive on the offensive end.
"He's been scoring pretty regular right down the stretch here, and we need him to score big goals and get our power play going is the key, too," coach Dale Hunter said. "He's a big part of it."
With a cap hit of over $9.5 million, Ovechkin has to play big for the Caps as they try to ensure a fifth straight playoff appearance. So it's nice, then, that he has five goals in his past four games.
"I feel pretty good. I don't have so many chances to score goals, and if I have a chance, I have to use it," Ovechkin said. "If I have a chance to score, I have to do it."
Monday night he was opportunistic on a rebound goal on the power play and showed sniper ability on his shot from the slot that beat Jimmy Howard a few minutes earlier. Ovechkin took a perfect pass from Marcus Johansson, appeared to measure exactly where he wanted to put the puck, and snapped it off the netting and back out.
"Perfect pass and I have time to see what goalie's doing out there. So I just shoot the puck," a confident Ovechkin said. "I knew when he gave me the pass, I knew it was going to be in, because I saw the net and I had lots of time."
The two goals against the Red Wings got Ovechkin to 32 on the season, matching his total from last year. A 40-goal campaign is still not likely with just nine games to go, but his recent scoring pace means it's not unthinkable.
"We're hoping that he can keep it up," Alzner said. "Two goals every night would be huge."
Hunter thinks Ovechkin can be effective even when he's not putting up those kinds of numbers. Defenses still tend to key on him, putting a larger burden on the physical aspect of his game if he doesn't produce.
"He's working; he's hitting. ... And you're not always going to score. It's how you play the game," Hunter said. "Being a force, forechecking and finishing your hits on the D where they see him coming, you might not get a hit because they're getting out of the road, but they might move the puck just a second earlier and it causes a turnover. He's a unique player that way."
Ovechkin himself has stated it's not his job to make hits as much as it is to score goals. Putting the puck in the net, and doing it with regularity in the next few weeks, will go a long way toward whether the Caps squeak into the playoffs, cruise into April or miss altogether.
"It's nine games left and we have to try to win all the games if we want to be in the playoffs," Ovechkin said. "I don't think everybody just want to go to the playoffs. ... This team wants to win."
That's the Ovechkin the Caps want to hear.
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