Say this about Alex Ovechkin: He knows irony when he sees it.
Three weeks after enduring the scorn of nearly every hockey analyst in North America after lopsided losses to the Flyers and Rangers, Ovechkin was selected as the NHL’s “First Star” of the week on Monday, after he racked up five goals and two assists on a 3-1-0 road trip that breathed life back into the Capitals’ playoff hopes.
“Right now I’m scoring goals and I’m the king of the world,” Ovechkin told reporters on Monday after an optional skate at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “A couple weeks ago I was almost on the toilet. You just forgot to flush me.”
The irony in all of this is that Ovechkin has always been judged by the number of goals he scores. It is the curse automatically bestowed on a player when he scores 65 goals in his third NHL season.
It’s hard to find anyone in the NHL willing to bet money on Ovechkin ever scoring 50 goals again, let alone 60. Some wonder if he’ll ever see 40 again.
With seven goals and three assists in his last seven games, Ovechkin is once again climbing the NHL scoring list. He ranks sixth in the NHL with 16 goals and 17th in overall scoring with 31 points in 32 games. He also ranks first in the league in shots  and first in shots that miss the net .
Through 32 games he is on pace for 24 goals and 23 assists this season, which over an 82-game season would amount to 41 and 38 assists for 79 points.
Which begs this question: Is that enough?
If you’re Capitals coach Adam Oates the answer is yes, as long as every other area of Ovechkin’s game is improving.
“He is still is our main focus for scoring,” Oates said Monday. “Every team, when they draw up their game plan he’s the first guy they think of. I know he expects to score and we do, too, and I’m going to try to put him in every little situation I can to score.”
Here comes the but …
“During the course of 60 minutes there’s still a lot more hockey that’s played that he’s going to be a part of.”
That means doing all of the little things that Ovechkin is capable of doing. Like running over opponents the way he did in Pittsburgh and Winnipeg last week. Like racing back to break up a 2-on-1 the other way, like he did in Winnipeg on Thursday night.
Oates has spent the past two months trying to convince his captain that he is more than simply a goal scorer and there are signs Ovechkin is beginning to believe it.
“I don’t think like it’s going to go in all the time,” he said. “Sometimes they block your shot and sometimes it’s a lucky shot. My linemates [Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson] do a very good job to find me and I just have to put the puck in the net.
“I’m trying not to concentrate [on scoring goals], but doing my best.”
Against the Rangers on Sunday night, Ovechkin gave the Capitals a 2-0 lead when he deflected a Steve Oleksy point shot past Henrik Lundqvist. But it was his bull-in-a-china-shop shifts that most impressed Oates.
“He carries us and he brings an enthusiasm that is right through the lineup,” Oates said. “The first 10 minutes [the Rangers] couldn’t touch the puck, right? That’s one of the things he brings. I’m trying to tap into it as much as I can all night.”
Ovechkin challenged his teammates to play their best hockey of the season last week and the Capitals responded with a season-saving road trip that allowed them to grab six of a possible eight points.
He said the biggest difference in the Caps right now is not his ability to score, but the team’s ability to put a healthy lineup on the ice with a healthy Brooks Laich and Mike Green.
“The most important thing,” he said, “is everybody healthy and we can play all our lines.”