Ovechkin facing busy year of competition in Washington and Russia

Prospect of Olympic gold not distracting Capitals star from club responsibilities

Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, of Russia, faces a busy year as he attempts to win both the Stanley Cup and an Olympic gold medal. Alex Brandon / AP Photo
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With the Winter Olympics being staged in his home country, in February, it was sure to be an exciting season for Alex Ovechkin.

The Russian forward, 28, has been happily anticipating the Sochi Games for some time, even flying to Greece and back in one day last September to participate in the Olympic torch relay.

As it turns out, the Washington Capitals standout has a more immediate developing story to attend to – his own scoring spree. The Caps left wing has 26 goals in 30 games, which puts him on pace to threaten 70, an NHL figure that has not been reached in two decades.

It may seem unlikely that the Washington sharpshooter will stay this hot, but he did finish last season with 22 goals in his final 21 games. After Ovechkin scored four in a game against Tampa Bay last week, he had amassed 48 during a 50-game stretch over two seasons.

That reminded observers of a storied NHL milestone, accomplished by only eight players – scoring 50 goals in their first 50 games to start a season. Brett Hull was the last to do it, 22 years ago.

Ovechkin downplays his chances of reaching the two milestones.

“It’s impossible to do now, because the level of hockey is so high,” he told the Capitals’ team website.

Those who watch him every day, however, are not dismissing the man who won his third Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player last season.

“One thing he’s doing better is putting himself in front of the net, with that big body,” said Adam Oates, his coach, who noted that tip-ins and rebounds are a nice complement to goals that Ovechkin piles up with his famously hard, accurate shot.

“He has a special shot, we all know that. He’s an incredibly strong man with an ability to hit that shot … put it somewhere with enough velocity. It’s what makes him a special guy.”

Ovechkin has his flaws. He has only nine assists to go with all those goals, and opponents have scored 11 more times than the Capitals when he has been on the ice. The minus-11 rating speaks to his defensive liabilities.

At least the Caps are in solid play-off contention, standing behind only Pittsburgh in the Metropolitan Division and sixth overall in the Eastern Conference.

If Sochi figures to be a once-in-a-lifetime thrill for Ovechkin, he still may have something fun to shoot for when the NHL season resumes after the Olympics: his career-high mark of 65 goals.

His teammate, Nicklas Backstrom, believes that mark, at minimum, is a viable target: “He’s got the best shot in the league. It’s hard to stop that.”