- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 23, 2013


The NHL season is one-third over already. Through the first portion of the schedule, the Capitals built up some pretty convincing evidence that they were not a good team. In fact, most signs pointed to them being a bad team.

They went into Saturday’s game at Verizon Center last in the league in points. They were taking too many penalties. They had stretches where the goaltending wasn’t good. They had stretches where it was and the offense couldn’t do enough to win.

But anyone who saw Saturday’s 5-1 victory over the Devils got an eyeful of why the Capitals’ faithful remains that way, why there’s still reason to hold out a little bit of hope for this team.

Alex Ovechkin had a game like the Alex Ovechkin many feared had become a memory. He was, for a day, The Great 8 again. Three goals, two of them in the third period that started with the teams tied at 1. An assist with a beauty of a pass to Troy Brouwer.

It was Ovechkin’s 11th career hat trick and first in 25 months, his first at home in more than three years.

“The chances are there,” Ovechkin said. “Sometimes I feel that the puck just doesn’t want to go in. Today, it was that kind of game that almost every shot goes in, or at least it feels like that. It’s kind of nice.”

Maybe it’s just a blip, one good day in a season without many of them. Ovechkin is not going to score a hat trick every game.

He also can’t go a third of the season and be fifth on the team in points. He can’t have fewer points than Joel Ward, for goodness sakes, as he did going into Saturday’s game. No disrespect to Ward, a valuable grinder. But no one has ever mistaken him for one of the best players in the game.

Ovechkin has been, and maybe can be that again. The Caps have some talent. Mike Ribeiro (two assists Saturday) has been a most welcome addition. Brouwer is having a quality year. Goaltender Braden Holtby has been strong lately.

None of it will matter if Ovechkin is the Okay 8 or Pretty Good Eight or Great Every Once In A While 8. For the Caps to make a serious upward climb and get into playoff contention, they need Ovechkin to be the true Great 8 almost every night.

It might not mean a hat trick or a four-point night.

It will make a difference.

“He’s such an emotional player that he brings everybody with him,” Devils goalie Johan Hedberg said. “When he is playing like he is today, he’s forcing everybody else to follow his lead. He’s the engine of that team. We know that.

Said Brouwer, who with eight is now tied with Ovechkin for the team lead in goals, “It’s not just him and we don’t feed off just him. But we need him to lead.”

Caps coach Adam Oates talked about the enthusiasm an on-fire Ovechkin creates. He’s jumping into the glass to celebrate with fans when he scores. The arena gets loud. Most important, consciously or not, his teammates seem to find a little spark, too.

Ovechkin gave the Caps the lead 1:23 into the third. A mere 2:33 later, Eric Fehr scored the Caps’ first shorthanded goal of the season. It probably was a coincidence. Or maybe not. Not long after that, Fehr made a brilliant defensive play.

The Caps have so often played the third period this season as if they were waiting for things to collapse, which they did many times. Saturday, they played like they were going to make it a blowout. Which they did.

Ovechkin was the reason.

“That’s what makes him the player he is. That’s why he’s the captain,” Holtby said. “That’s the leadership he needs to bring. If he can bring it every night, it can trickle down to the rest of the team. He’s the focal point of our offense. He’s a finisher. When you have him going, it is a big part.

“The last 10 games or so, he’s started to play better and it is great to see him playing like he is. You can see it is starting to affect the rest of our group.”



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