Alex Ovechkin: The Great 8
By ADAM CURTIS
College Contributor Network
The 2010-2011 NHL season was supposed to be the year of Alexander Ovechkin.
"Ovi" had scored 50 or more goals in four of his first five seasons. His trophy case was already crammed with every individual award you could think of -- the Calder Memorial Trophy (rookie of the year), the Hart Memorial Trophy (most valuable player as voted by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association), the Ted Lindsay Award (most valuable player as voted by the NHL Players' Association), the Maurice Richard Trophy (top goal scorer), and the Art Ross Trophy (top point scorer).
The Washington Capitals, led by the "Great 8," were poised to make a deep playoff run and Ovechkin was going to represent Russia in the 2010 Winter Olympics.
At the time, Ovechkin and Pittsburgh Penguin star Sidney Crosby had an intense rivalry going on. They were two of the best players on the planet, although it was not clear who was better. Long story short, after the campaign, Ovi's stock plummeted while Crosby's soared to an all-time high. Ovi netted only 32 goals that season, the Caps had a surprising first-round exit in the playoffs, and Russia was destroyed by a Crosby-led Canadian hockey team in the Olympics, losing in the quarterfinals and falling well short of everybody's expectations. Ovechkin went into a funk.
The Caps captain had previously been criticized in the media for his overzealous play and unabashed flair. Now he was called out for being over-the-hill and putting forth little effort on defense. His leadership was questioned. Old-timers took him to task for his wild lifestyle off the ice. Not only was Ovechkin struggling, but the Caps weren't making any noise in the playoffs.
Crosby, on the other hand, led Canada to Olympic gold, and although his career was stalled by injuries, he had already won a Stanley Cup the previous season. The debate as to who was the league's best player was pretty much over. The following season, the Capitals fired coach Bruce Boudreau and brought in former player Dale Hunter. That experiment lasted all of one season. After New Jersey Devils assistant Adam Oates was brought in to helm the Caps, Ovechkin regained his scoring touch, winning the Hart Trophy in the 2012-2013 season and scoring more than 50 goals in each of the following two seasons. But his storied career still had one blemish. He hadn't won the Stanley Cup.
This season, Ovechkin scored 53 goals and improved his defense under new coach Barry Trotz. Ovechkin is now in a good place, getting along with his coach and teammates, returning to glory as one of the NHL's best players, and polishing his off-ice image. But he still hasn't won the Stanley Cup.
Time is running out for Ovi, who turns 30 later this year. He still has a lot of passion for the game, exploding with energy every time he goes out on the ice, but the Caps have had trouble translating regular season success into playoff success. This past offseason, they hired a new general manager and a new coach. They brought in two solid blueliners from the Penguins. Whatever the reason for the Caps' postseason struggles, a lack of talent isn't one of them.
So why is this year any different from years past when Ovechkin and the Caps crumbled in crunch time? For one thing, Ovi has a sense of urgency that he never had before. He realizes he's no longer an up-and-coming sensation and his prime won't last forever. He knows that his best shot to win is right now. The Caps face the New York Islanders in the first round of the playoffs, a tough matchup for sure. But Ovi and the boys are bigger and more experienced than the Islanders. They've got a wonderful goaltender in Braden Holtby (41 wins) and a stout defense, and should make it past the first round.
And remember this: success in the playoffs is about getting hot at the right time.
Adam Curtis is a freshman at American University. Growing up, he played soccer and tennis and is a die-hard D.C. sports fan. Follow him on Twitter: @actennis96