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Dec. 10, 2005

Go see Alexander Ovechkin play hockey. Now.

by Michael Bushnell, Page Editor
Yes, I know the Washington Capitals are bad. Really, really bad. But amidst the sea of frustratingly inept play this season is Alexander Ovechkin. Not only is he not really bad, but also he might just be the best athlete in all of D.C. And he's a 20-year-old rookie!

Just 28 games into the NHL season, Ovechkin's clearly the best skater on the Capitals, and the only player remotely capable of winning a game on his own. The Russian is on pace for over 90 points this season, leading all rookies.

Ovechkin is in the top ten in the league in goals with 18; pretty remarkable considering he's the only player the Capitals have that can be remotely called a scoring threat. If he was playing alongside Peter Forsberg, Jarome Iginla or Dany Heatley, his numbers would be more easily explained. Defenders couldn't focus solely on him.

But he has 18 goals; Matt Pettinger is second on the team with a whopping seven. He has 141 shots on goal; Brian Willsie is second with 56. Ovechkin's a man capable of even bigger numbers, who is clearly being held back by the lack of any talent around him. Imagine how many goals he could have if defenders didn't gang up on him every time he got the puck.

Still, he doesn't seem to mind. Ovechkin brings a level of intensity, speed and maturity each night that would be expected of a 10-year veteran. He's nothing short of a thrill to watch, and he makes his team better. On multiple occasions so far this year, he has juked multiple defenders to score or assist a goal.

Last week against the New York Rangers, he had a goal and three assists. On the second assist, he took the puck from center ice, skated between two defenders to the goal mouth and passed to a wide-open Steve Eminger, who couldn't have missed the goal if he wanted to. Remember, this is a rookie.

The Capitals have 20 points this year (9-17-2); without Ovechkin, they very well might have half that many.

Even if the Capitals finish in last place this season, Ovechkin's more than worth the price of admission. He's flashy and thrilling to watch; just the kind of player Washington needs to reinvigorate a fan base and team that have had both feet in the grave the last few years.

From everything I've read in the newspapers and seen on television, Ovechkin appears to love the city and playing for the Capitals. Maybe he doesn't realize that the Caps are in last place, but that's good. The team is starting what will probably be a lengthy rebuilding process, which will be sped up with Alex the Great as the best player on the team.

Jeff Halpern's the captain, but Ovechkin's the team's leader. When Olie Kolzig gets traded in March (so the Caps can trim down to a payroll around $35), this will officially be Ovechkin's organization. And it looks promising.

There's always the chance Ovechkin could be like Theo Fleury or Alexander Daigle; high draft picks with huge rookie numbers who became clinically insane. But Alex doesn't appear to have the malice needed to punch a guy outside a strip club like Fleury did.

He's humble, and genuinely believes that he can lead the Capitals to the Stanley Cup. Did owner Ted Leonsis brainwash him? Did Ovechkin never watch an NHL game in Russia? I don't care; the longer it takes for him to realize what a terrible franchise Washington is, the more chances I have to watch him in person.

Gilbert Arenas, LaVar Arrington and Clinton Portis are all entertaining D.C. athletes. But Ovechkin's better, at age 20, at his sport than any of them are at theirs.

Even if you've never been to an NHL game before, it's not too late to get on the Ovechkin bandwagon.

Because when the Rangers give him a $100 million contract in three years, you'll be sorry you missed the biggest thing to hit Washington sports since Ralph Friedgen met Burger King.

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  • WC! on December 10, 2005 at 10:09 PM
    i didn't know anyone could play witty hockey?!
  • simon (View Email) on December 11, 2005 at 10:12 AM
    I just saw him play against the Red Wings...he is so amazingly good. The only other person I've seen skate around so many defenders is Neil Vasilak at a Blair hockey game.
  • . on December 11, 2005 at 10:20 AM
    alex ovechkin is beast! but is kolzig really being traded?! with his performance against the rangers they should keep him forever.
  • indeed on December 11, 2005 at 10:31 AM
    as a long time (and long suffering) caps fan, Ovechkin is indeed a ray of hope for a dead franchise. only hoping that he doesn't bolt for a bigger contract soon.
  • Max on December 11, 2005 at 10:31 AM
    How ironic to have the best guy on the DC team being a Russian...
  • R on December 11, 2005 at 3:25 PM
    Ovechkin's certainly very, very good, and the Capitals are very lucky to have him on their team. He's exactly what the Caps need to rebuild their franchise and bring back their fanbase. If Ovechkin stays on track both on and off the ice, there will be many years of plenty ahead in D.C.

    Go Caps!!!
  • brian yu on December 11, 2005 at 8:00 PM
  • naysayer on December 11, 2005 at 11:08 PM
    Trade Ovechkin for some defense
  • Alexander Ovechkin on December 12, 2005 at 8:47 PM
    I tank you for ze propz.
  • b.y. on December 13, 2005 at 12:07 PM
    alexander ovechkin reeks of awesomeness!
    A.O.! Let's go!
  • Zev on December 15, 2005 at 11:14 PM
    All they had to do was keep Jagr!

    Can you imagine Ovechkin and Jagr on the same team?
  • GetSirius (View Email) on December 22, 2005 at 11:49 PM
    LETS GO RANGERS!!!!!!!
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