WASHINGTON, April 11 (RIA Novosti) – After a rocky start that had fans and commentators wondering whether he was washed up, Russian hockey forward Alex Ovechkin has gone on a tear in recent weeks, leading the Washington Capitals from last place to playoff contention and sending America’s capital swooning once again for the gap-toothed superstar.
“The real reason this is a high-fiving time in the nation’s capital is it looks like The Great 8 is back in town, and not just for a quick visit,” Washington Times columnist Mike Harris wrote of Ovechkin this week, using a nickname referencing the player’s uniform number. “It looks like he is here to stay.”
In a string of metaphorical flourishes in the same column, Harris described Ovechkin as the player who “rows that boat,” “the straw that stirs the drink,” and a car accelerator that “needs to be pressed all the way to the floor.”
After notching eight goals and seven assists in his first 19 games of the season, Ovechkin has scored 18 goals and doled out 11 assists in leading the Capitals from the basement to the top of the Southeast division of the National Hockey League (NHL), putting the team in prime position to clinch a playoff spot.
The resurgence of the Russian national team player and his team has sparked a flurry of discussion in the national and local media here about what exactly has prompted the turnaround for the two-time NHL most valuable player.
Some fans and commentators say Ovechkin has finally adjusted to the system of his new coach. Others note his more patient approach on offense. And others have noted that his production has spiked since television sportscaster Mike Milbury derided his play in late February as “disgusting” and “disheartening,” saying the Russian should be “ashamed of himself.”
Citing Ovechkin’s outstanding performance since Milbury’s comments on Feb. 27, Washington Post sports columnist Tracee Hamilton suggested a campaign of trashing the player in the media might help propel the Capitals to continued success.
“Ovechkin, it seems, responds better to the stick than the carrot,” Hamilton wrote this week in a column titled “Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals Should Hope Everyone’s a Critic.”
Milbury, meanwhile, said Wednesday that he has “never been against Ovechkin,” but that at the time of his critical comments, “it seemed like there was less care than there should have been, whether it was physically or mentally, it looked to me to be both.”
“But God bless him, he’s turned it around and so have the Capitals,” Milbury told CSN Washington.
Ovechkin, 27, said Thursday that he is exercising more discretion in deciding when to turn on the speed and abandon that has made him famous on the ice.
“It give me more chances,” Ovechkin said, NBC Washington reported. “The guys fly through the zone, and I’m in my zone and don’t try to rush there. [I] try to stay in my spot and just try to read the game.”
Whatever is behind Ovechkin’s recent play, it has put him “once again at the pinnacle of the sport offensively,” Harry Hawkins, who covers the Captials for the fan website RockTheRed.Net, wrote Wednesday.
“His talent didn’t just disappear,” Hawkins wrote. “It has come roaring to the surface for this stretch in a way we haven’t seen in a long time and may not see much more often in his career at this level.”