- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 2, 2008

About 30 minutes after Thursday night’s game, Washington Capitals forward Brooks Laich sat in the training room with ice packs on his body when Alex Ovechkin walked past.

Ovechkin had just authored a near-mythical performance — four goals and an assist in a 5-4 overtime win against the Montreal Canadiens. He also doled out several large hits, took a high stick in the face, had his nose broken and needed stitches in his lower lip.

“I called him over to shake his hand,” Laich said. “I said, ‘Ovie, that was incredible.’ He just took over the game. He just has that ability.

“On the bench, we can feel it — we can feel how he just grabs a hold of the game and goes after it. He charges down the ice, and every time he has the puck you think he’s going to score.”

During the postgame celebration, Caps goaltender Olie Kolzig — the longest-tenured player on the team— also had some high praise for Ovechkin.

“I said, ‘You’re the best player I’ve ever played with,’ ” Kolzig said. “It was definitely a special game. I think Bonzai [Peter Bondra] had a five-goal game, but they’re two different players. Ovie is a lot more physical, and he takes the play to teams. Without sitting back and going through the games, it would probably be in the top two or three games I’ve seen a Caps player play.”

After the game Ovechkin went to see Utah Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko at his hotel. Kirilenko, who was in town to play against the Wizards last night, and Ovechkin became friends after the 2005-06 hockey season.

Ovechkin said they spent some time together in Moscow and on a vacation to France. Otherwise, he tried to downplay the significance of the evening.

“Why they have to call me?” he joked. “No, my friends call me and tell me congratulations and great game. It was good night for me, but it was good night for everybody.”

He planned to attend the Jazz-Wizards game at Verizon Center, but not until after a visit to the doctor to fix his nose. Ovechkin said there was little pain and he could breathe normally — except for a minor incident right after the game.

“When I score fourth goal in overtime, I go to celebrate but I go like this [tucks his chin] because I broke my nose,” Ovechkin said. “[Center Nicklas Backstrom] hugged me and hit again my nose. It was pretty funny actually.”

Ovechkin has accomplished much in his first three seasons in the NHL. Yesterday he woke up as the league’s scoring leader for the first time. His 43 goals are five more than the next guy — Atlanta’s Ilya Kovalchuk.

The Caps play host to the Thrashers tonight at Verizon, but Kovalchuk may not play because of a knee injury.

Given his recent play Ovechkin doesn’t need the help, but with other top players like Kovalchuk, Ottawa’s Daniel Alfredsson and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby dealing with injuries, he is making a strong push for the Hart and Pearson trophies for league MVP honors. After Thursday night’s five-point performance, he is on pace for a team-record 68 goals.

“You’re going to get different answers in different cities,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said when asked if Ovechkin is the best player in the league. “I certainly want to back our guy and think he is, but they’ll say a different story in Atlanta. They’ll say a different story in Pittsburgh. They’ll say a different story in Columbus. Who knows? It is all subjective. If you are sitting on the fence and watching last night’s game, you are probably thinking, ‘Wow. That guy is pretty valuable.’ ”

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