- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2006

When he’s not causing headaches for opposing goalies, Alex Ovechkin always seems to be planning some sort of mischief.

He often tips his hand with a not-to-subtle glance in the direction of a potential victim. He hides his moods with the finesse of a leprechaun.

The 20-year-old Capitals star was having what was hoped to be a serious discussion with a reporter yesterday when he was asked what comes after 50 — as in the next step after scoring 50 goals.

“Fifty-one,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone, trying very hard to hold a straight face. He watched the reporter’s face intently as the expression turned to anguish and that made him laugh uncontrollably.

“What you want me to say?” he asked. “If I score 50, I go out and play hard and try help team. That is all.”

The rookie left wing is on the verge of hitting two magical numbers for any player — 50 goals and 100 points. He stands two shy of the former and four shy of the latter. Only three rookies in history have scored more goals than he now has and only six had more points.

Yet he does not seem to be bothered by any of the turmoil around him as he continues his steady climb to superstardom with achievement after achievement. He has separated from his chief rival, Sidney Crosby of Pittsburgh, and now seems to be a shoo-in to win rookie of the year.

“I don’t think he realizes what he’s about to do,” one veteran Caps player said yesterday. “I’m not sure they have any of these yardsticks to measure things in Russia. The rink is bigger, the season shorter, the only thing that matters is winning a championship.”

Yet Ovechkin has been a student of the NHL game since he started watching it on television in his native Moscow as a child. He knows who Rocket Richard and Gordie Howe are, as well as the modern day stars like Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, the latter his boyhood NHL idol.

“He’s going to go home when the season ends and in a couple weeks it’s suddenly going to dawn on him what he has accomplished,” said Dainius Zubrus, a close friend of Ovechkin. “I told him before the season started that if he had 35, 40 goals, for a rookie that would be great. Look at him now, it’s amazing.”

Ovechkin knows what benchmarks he is approaching and does so very respectfully. But to listen to him it doesn’t appear his initial goals back in September have changed, statistics aside.

“I think about [50] lots of time but if you go to ice thinking about this, you never score 50,” Ovechkin said. “You just go to ice and try real hard, try to play like you play before.

“When I first got here I never know how I play. My goal was just to play hard and do my best, try to score goals, try to help team win game, try to enjoy game. My parents tell me if I go to NHL I must not think about [individual] results, I must just enjoy because it was my dream and I must enjoy it.”

The 50 and 100 plateaus will come. He has been held goal-less in three straight games but boasts a career-high nine-game points streak and is inching toward the 100-point mark.

What will he do this summer after his longest season ever?

“I will go home, go to bars, drink and start fights with guys,” he said.

He laughed, long and loud.

“No, I go home, spend a couple weeks with my family then go to ocean, sea, visit friends.”

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