Tuesday, January 25, 2011, 1:47 p.m.
By Mark Zuckerman
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Alex Ovechkin seemed a tad confused when someone mentioned Monday night that he's been looking more like the "Old Ovie" in recent weeks.
"Old Ovie? I'm still young," the 25-year-old replied.
Perhaps "Old Ovie" isn't the correct term. Maybe it's better to refer to it as "Prime Ovie."
Whatever the wording, Ovechkin has looked more like the premier version of himself lately. He recorded a hat trick Saturday night in Toronto, firing off eight shots in the process. And though he didn't score Monday night in a 2-1 shootout loss to the Rangers, he took a team-high six shots and wowed the Verizon Center crowd with a couple of nifty maneuvers few (if any) other players in the game could pull off.
"I just have opportunity to make some moves, make some shots," he said. "It's coming."
The Capitals could certainly use a reinvigorated Ovechkin during the season's second half. Having scored only 19 times in 50 games, he's on pace to finish the year with only 31 goals. This from a world-renowned sharpshooter who has averaged nearly 54 goals in each of his first five NHL seasons.
That reduced scoring rate has led to hand-wringing among Capitals fans and media members alike, but Ovechkin's teammates aren't the least-bit concerned about his lack of goals.
"He set the bar so high for himself when he was young," defenseman Mike Green said. "If he doesn't exceed those expectations each year, it's like he's not doing well. ... I think he's been a lot better this year in his overall game. I'd rather have him in the position he's in now, be better defensively and more structured, than the wide-open game he's played in the past."
Ultimately, the Capitals do need Ovechkin to lead the way in the offensive zone. It took Saturday's hat trick to catapult him past Alexander Semin for the team lead in goals ... and Semin hasn't played in nearly three weeks due to injury and hasn't scored in nearly two months.
So the sight Monday night of Ovechkin dancing around Rangers defensemen and firing a first-period missile at goalie Martin Biron was a comforting one.
"I thought he had more jump in the first period," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "To me, his speed has increased recently and his puck-handling has gotten a little bit better."
Ovechkin's increased speed has been most noticeable these last two games.
"He's a pretty dominant player as it is," said Jason Chimera, who recently joined Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the caps' first line. "But when he gets his legs going, he's like a bull. He can't stop himself."
The quick legs and nifty moves didn't produce any actual goals Monday night, and Ovechkin still looks snakebitten at times when trying to find the back of a net that has been far more elusive this season than at any time in his past.
But the sense throughout the Capitals' locker room remains that the game's best goal-scorer won't have trouble finding his scoring touch when it really counts.
"He'll be fine," Green said. "He's the kind of guy that in Game 7, he'll score you a goal. He'll come through in the end."