On the carousel of local professional sports superstars, look who is holding the brass ring again.
Alex Ovechkin, the Capitals' dynamic winger, looked not too long ago like his place at the top of the list was being usurped by an impressive array of newcomers. The Redskins had quarterback Robert Griffin III, the 2012 NFL offensive rookie of the year. The Nationals had 2012 National League rookie of the year Bryce Harper and All-Star pitcher Stephen Strasburg.
The Wizards had whiz-kid guards John Wall and Bradley Beal.
But as the days wind down on 2013, Ovechkin, 28, has regained his place at the top as the Great 8 and is leaving no room for argument.
RG3 is being benched, Harper had an injury-riddled season. Wall and Beal have struggled with injuries over the past two seasons.
Ovechkin's four goals Tuesday against Tampa Bay gave him 26 on the season, at the time five more than anyone else in the league. At his current pace, he will finish the season with more than 70 goals — a milestone no one in the NHL has reached since Teemu Selanne and Alexander Mogilny had 76 in the 1992-93 season.
Only two players have had as many as 60 since the turn of the century, and one of them was Ovechkin with 65 in 2007-08.
"He is a pure sniper," Capitals coach Adam Oates told reporters after the victory over Tampa. "I mean, the fourth goal, with the ice conditions at that time and the length of the pass and the weight of the pass — that's an incredible shot. It really is. That's why he's a superstar."
In the lockout-shortened 2013 season, Ovechkin won his third Hart Trophy as the National Hockey League's most valuable player. With the current season a third over, he has made himself a prime candidate for a fourth.
His work is gaining notice outside of town, too. An opposing coach's plan of attack for facing the Capitals always includes a line that is simple to say and sometimes impossible to execute: Know where Ovechkin is at all times.
"It's not any different than any of the elite players in the league that you have to try and eliminate time and space," Toronto coach Randy Carlyle recently told the Canadian Press.
"We know that he has a skill set and a powerful skill set. He's a powerful skater, a big, strong horse of a hockey player that can beat you in different ways with skill and brawn. We know he's a formidate force and we've got to be on top of our toes and know when he's on the ice."
Penguins winger Chris Kunitz said Ovechkin has added to his game by doing things like crashing the net more.
"He seems to be able to consistently go and score goals at a rapid pace," Kunitz told the Canadian Press. "He's probably on his way to [being] one of the elite goal-scorers ever to play in the National Hockey League."
Back on his way, more like it. Ovechkin was coming off a couple of subpar seasons by his standards just as the other area standouts were gaining prominence. After scoring 50 or more goals in four of his first five seasons, he had just 70 combined in the next two.
He started slow last year and finished strong to win the Hart Trophy again.
With his explosion against Tampa, Ovechkin has 397 goals in 630 career games. That ranks him 89th all-time. To get into the top 10 as it stands now, he would need to get to 691 goals to surpass No. 10 Mario Lemieux.
"[Ovechkin] is one of those guys who can shoot it so hard," teammate Troy Brouwer told reporters Wednesday. "It doesn't really matter if he places it. Like his fourth goal [Tuesday]. Not a lot of guys can shoot it through goalies like that. It just gives him more of a scoring threat. It may squeeze through because of the sheer velocity of it."
Harper and Strasburg, meanwhile, hope to rebound from subpar — by their standards — 2013 seasons. Each had surgery in the offseason and each is on schedule to be full-go by the time spring training starts in February. One or the other of Wall and Beal always seem to be injured. Beal is out currently. RG3's shutdown is tied to his surgically repaired right knee, so Redskins coach Mike Shanahan claims. He can get a head start on preparing for a 2014 season the Redskins hope will be much more like his 2012 campaign.
If any of them returns to glory the way Ovechkin has, his team no doubt will be thrilled.
Ovechkin can't predict whether he will keep up his pace. He does know he'll keep trying.
"We'll see what's going to happen," Ovechkin said after Wednesday's practice. "Again, my job is to score goals. Every opportunity I have, I'm going to try and put it in the net."
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