Signs of the times - Ovechkin wearing an 'A', becoming a leader with Caps

The Canadian Press
By: The Canadian Press
Mar 6, 2007
The Hockey News

Signs of the times - Ovechkin wearing an 'A', becoming a leader with Caps

The Canadian Press
By: The Canadian Press
Mar 6, 2007

Start with the 'A' on his Washington Capitals sweater and the prime location of his locker stall at the team's home arena.

Those sorts of things come with a responsibility that Ovechkin seems to be embracing. Facing a media scrum on Tuesday morning, the super sophomore fielded far more questions about another non-playoff season in Washington than queries about his personal performance.

It's very clear that Ovechkin is now speaking for the team.

"We want to win whether we're in the playoffs or not," he said before Tuesday's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. "When you win, you have great feelings. When you lose, you feel like somebody died."

There seem to be few players who take the ups and downs of the game as much to heart as No. 8.

While it's only natural that an athlete with his skill and ability would become a team leader, the 21-year-old Ovechkin seems to be on an accelerated pace.

Part of that has been necessitated by another sub-par season. Veteran defenceman Jamie Heward and forwards Richard Zednik and Dainius Zubrus were all dealt away at the trade deadline.

Washington continues to build for the future.

"We lost great players," said Ovechkin, who was particularly close with Zubrus, and inherited the 'A' from him. "They were very great teammates and they were sometimes very key for our team.

"It happens. It's the NHL."

Another harsh reality of the league is how tough it can be to win.

Washington has felt that pinch this season while spending much of the year hovering around the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

The Capitals seem to have all the ingredients and believe it's only a matter of time before they're a contender. It starts with having young players like Ovechkin step up and make the team their own.

"We started this a couple years ago with some young players and they're starting to realize there's some important places in our organization for them," said head coach Glen Hanlon. "Associating youth with patience isn't always the easiest thing, but they've been great about it.

"We'll play through this."

Hanlon has set a goal for the team to eclipse the 70 points it finished with last season. At 60 heading into Tuesday's game, it should be no problem.

The Capitals had a strong finish a year ago and are hoping for a similar run over the next month, but the opportunity to prevent teams like Toronto and Montreal from reaching the post-season is not a motivating factor.

"We don't talk about playing the role of spoiler," said Hanlon. "We like to think of it as a team that's getting better."

Ovechkin has set the same goals for himself.

He was named the league's rookie of the year after scoring 52 goals and 106 points last season, but is currently on pace for lower totals.

Ovechkin had 38 goals and 80 points heading into Tuesday night's game. He hasn't yet given up on scoring 50 goals.

"Everybody wants to score 50 goals who is at 35 or 36 (or more)," he said. "But when you are on the ice, you can't concentrate on that."

Teams around the league are keying in on Ovechkin more and more. While that sometimes creates room for his linemates, it has at times frustrated the flashy Russian.

But it's all part of the learning curve.

Defenceman Milan Jurcina was acquired from Boston a few weeks ahead of the trade deadline and has settled in well. He was immediately taken with how Ovechkin's energy and spirit permeates the dressing room.

"This is a great organization and he's a great guy," Jurcina said of Ovechkin. "He's the one we look to."

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Signs of the times - Ovechkin wearing an 'A', becoming a leader with Caps