Is Alex Ovechkin now a candidate for the Hart Trophy?
If you told me after the first couple weeks of the start of the season that the Washington Capitals would be sitting atop the Southeast with 8 games left I would have laughed at said, "Maybe". If you told me that Alex Ovechkin would be tied for the league lead in goals I would have laughed a little harder and said, "I doubt that". And if you told me that not only are the Caps sitting atop the Southeast and Ovechkin was tied for the league lead in goals, but Ovechkin was also a candidate for the Hart Trophy, I probably would punched you and told you that George Lucas had a better shot at making a stand-alone Jar-Jar Binks prequel.
But a week and a half into April, I would have eaten my own words.
The Washington Capitals are in the lead in the Southeast with a two point lead and a game in hand over the Winnipeg Jets and the Caps, although the whole team is playing well, have been lead all the way by their captain, Alex Ovechkin. In the last 24 games Ovechkin has 21 goals and 34 points and the Caps, winners of their last 5 games, have become like the old high-scoring-fire-wagon hockey team we fell in love with, but they're also playing defense. The team as a whole has come together and finally bought into the system that head coach Adam Oates has been trying to teach them since their brief training camp back in February. Braden Holtby, who has taken over as number one in net, has played brilliantly and back-up Michal Neuvirth, who started the last two games, has looked much better than earlier in the season.
So, is Ovechkin a candidate for the Hart Trophy?
At this point in the season with only 8 games left, my answer is yes. Ovechkin has been playing out of his mind and has proven his critics, including this one, that he can still play at an elite, superstar level in this league. Taking over the right side is finally working out for Ovechkin and it seems that every shot he takes is going in. His confidence is higher than I've seen in the last 2 1/2 years. At the pace he's playing now, in an 82-game schedule, Ovechkin would finish with 53 goals - imagine if he'd been playing like this all season.
To further dissect Ovechkin's game, he has 21 even strength points and 23 power play points, of which he has 14 goals to lead the league. His 4 game winning goals are tied for second (with a lot of other players), but to put it in perspective, the other two leading candidates for the Hart are Crosby and Stamkos who have 1 and 2 GWG respectively. His 178 shots also go for most in the league - something he hasn't accomplished since 2010-11 when he had 367 - and in an 82 game schedule, he would be on pace for 364.
But the best stats don't always mean the best player. It's what the player brings to the team at the right time, and Ovechkin is doing that.
He's being a captain. He's doing what he is supposed to do - lead. At the beginning of the season I wasn't sold on him being elite anymore. He was lazy. Unmotivated. I wanted to see his 'C' stripped from his chest and given to a more respectable leader, but now I'm not so sure anymore. I'm torn on whether or not he should be captain, but right now my faith in his ability to lead is rising. If the Caps hang on, the true test will be in the playoffs and whether Ovechkin can put this team on his shoulders and raise them as high as he can.
As for the Hart, I think Ovechkin's chances are very good considering without him, the Caps would be golfing in a week.
"Winning games is the most important thing. Of course I'm happy I'm scoring goals. The beginning of the year was a pretty hard time for our whole organization. Right now, we're back on track, and it's good." - Alex Ovechkin.
More to come...