HARRIS: Alex Ovechkin surge boosts entire Caps roster

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The cherry blossoms are out and, my, don’t they look lovely. The weather is turning warm. The Nationals’ season has begun and they have their first home series against the Braves this weekend.

It’s a grand time to be in good ol’ D.C.

Just not for any of those reasons.

The real reason this is a high-fiving time in the nation’s capital is it looks like The Great 8 is back in town, and not just for a quick visit. It looks like he is here to stay.

Alex Ovechkin needs to go buy a lottery ticket. He’d win. He needs to go play in the Masters. He’d win. He needs to find a horse to ride in the Kentucky Derby. He’d win. He needs to go put on a Nats uniform and hit a couple of home runs to help them beat the Braves. Heck, if RG3 doesn’t make it back in time from his knee surgery … you get the idea.

Ovechkin is hot and he’s carrying the Caps along for the ride. Sure, others are playing well. Sure, they don’t do anything without being a team and all that. But let’s make one thing clear — Alex Ovechkin rows that boat.

With apologies to Reggie Jackson, who first used the line when he joined the New York Yankees in 1977, Alex Ovechkin is the straw that stirs the drink. Maybe more than anyone in any sport.

When he’s on, the Capitals are on. It really is that simple.

And, boy, is he on now. Going into the Caps’ home game Thursday night against the Carolina Hurricanes, he has 26 goals in this lockout-shortened season. That is tied for the league lead.

He had two goals through the first 10 games. In the past 13, the Caps are 10-2-1 and Ovechkin has 16 goals and six assists.

Washington is in good position to make the playoffs and could go on a nice run toward the Stanley Cup. Laughable two months ago, not so much now.

Ovechkin has worked his way into the MVP conversation. Though he isn’t a front-runner, he at least has to be considered.

Laughable two months ago, not so much now.

Ovechkin, only 27 despite being around seemingly forever, is an interesting study.

His worst season as a pro was last year, when he had just 65 points (38 goals) in 78 games.

Most players in hockey would be overjoyed with those numbers. They’re just not very Ovechkin-like. Perhaps it is a bit unfair, but that’s what happens when you set such a high bar.

In his first five seasons, Ovechkin totaled 106, 92, 112, 110 and 109 points. He had 65 goals in 2007-08, 56 the next year.

He already has two MVP trophies. He also earned a massive contract ($124 million over 13 years).

Such production and such a paycheck bring with them the burden of expectations.

“Given who he is and what he’s accomplished and his status in the game, he has the most pressure with you guys as well as the public, with everybody,” Caps coach Adam Oates told reporters Wednesday. “The better he plays the game of hockey, the more everybody’s going to get off his back.”

At times, he’s seemed disinterested and, at other times, frustrated. Were his best days behind him? Had the league figured him out?

We’d see flashes here and there. He had a hat trick and a brilliant assist in a late February game against New Jersey, but only two goals in the next 10 games. This latest streak has been another animal entirely. It isn’t a monster game and then bye-bye Alex, see you when you feel like playing again. It is consistent production. Caps fans are back to being on the edge of their seats every time Ovechkin has the puck.

Only one game without any points. Three games with two goals, another with three.

He’s again become the player opponents fear and, no surprise, his teammates have elevated their play as well.

Nicklas Backstrom has 17 assists in the 13 games, 11 in the past five. Mike Green has six goals and two assists in the past 11 games. Defenses are wondering where’s Ovechkin and here comes Green blasting one in from the blue line.

“I think that’s why we’ve been playing so good as a team. I think everybody feeds off that and when we see him finding that next level I think everybody in the room finds that next level,” defenseman Steve Oleksy told reporters Sunday after a victory over Tampa Bay.

If this continues, and there’s no reason to think it won’t, maybe this will be the year the Caps finally do something in the playoffs.

Hockey’s postseason is always so uncertain. Ovechkin could remain hot and the Caps may not win a round.

This much is certain: If he isn’t on, they won’t win anything. He’s the accelerator and he needs to be pressed all the way to the floor, like he is now.

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