Hockey

Alex Ovechkin has an opportunity to re-write his legacy after reaching a convention closing

We’re going to want a brand new post-season definition for Alex Ovechkin. All of the outdated ones now not match.

After lastly slaying Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday and advancing to the third spherical of the playoffs for the primary time in his profession, you can not name Ovechkin a choker, or a whipping boy or the perennial face of failure. He’s not a punch line. He may lack enamel, however he actually doesn’t lack coronary heart.

For as soon as, he’s not the scapegoat. He by no means ought to have been.

And but, that’s the title that Ovechkin has worn for many of his tenure in Washington. As the best goal-scorer of our technology, the seven-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner led the Capitals to eight division titles and to the Presidents’ Trophy thrice throughout a 13-year span. However because the narrative went, as soon as the common season ended and the stakes have been raised, Ovechkin was unable to push a Stanley Cup contender over the hump.

Every yr, he apparently disappeared. Or was that another person?

Whereas Ovechkin has positively proven up throughout these playoffs, having scored eight targets and 15 factors in 12 video games — together with three targets and 7 factors towards the Penguins — it shouldn’t shock anybody who has paid consideration to the Capitals through the years. He’s all the time proven up. He’s all the time produced. And he’s achieved so at a stage that might recommend he’s extra clutch than he will get credit score for.

In 109 playoff video games, Ovechkin has 54 targets and 105 factors. Solely Sidney Crosby (66) and Evgeni Malkin (62) have scored extra playoff targets since 2005-06. However they’ve additionally performed almost 50 extra video games than him.

There’s a motive for that. And it has nothing to do with the Sid versus Ovie debate.

Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin reacts amid his teammates’ celebration of Evgeny Kuznetsov’s series-winning extra time aim on Monday, Could 7, 2018. Gene J. Puskar / AP

Hockey is a workforce sport, however particular person legacies are outlined by workforce success. It’s partially why there have been three present Chicago Blackhawks on the NHL’s 100 Biggest Gamers checklist, whereas Joe Thornton and Dale Hawerchuk have been each noticeably absent.

It’s additionally why Crosby has held a definite benefit over Ovechkin the place their Corridor of Fame legacies are involved.

It doesn’t matter what number of scoring titles or MVP awards you win in April. All that issues is the massive silver trophy awarded in June. And in that division, Crosby’s Penguins have dominated, successful three Stanley Cups and proudly owning a 3-Zero document towards the Capitals previous to this yr’s playoffs.

On the identical time, that head-to-head dominance hardly ever had something to do with the groups’ two greatest stars.

In 2009, Ovechkin had eight targets and 14 factors in a second-round sequence towards Pittsburgh; Crosby had eight targets and 13 factors. In 2016, Ovechkin had seven factors to Crosby’s two. A yr later, Ovechkin had 5 factors and Crosby had seven. This yr, Ovechkin and Crosby every had three targets, with Crosby edging him with eight factors to seven.

In 4 playoff sequence towards one another, Ovechkin has a mixed 15 targets and 33 factors, whereas Crosby has 13 targets and 30 factors.

The place there was separation is with their supporting casts. For years, Ovechkin had Nicklas Backstrom and never a lot else. Crosby, in the meantime, had Malkin, and Phil Kessel and Kris Letang, and Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray, in addition to lesser lights equivalent to Jake Guentzel and Connor Sheary who confirmed up and contributed when it mattered essentially the most.

Who has helped Ovechkin do the heavy lifting? Alex Semin, who had no targets in a first-round exit to Montreal in 2010 after which had three targets and one help in 14 video games in 2012? Kevin Shattenkirk, who final yr managed one aim in 13 video games? How about T.J. Oshie, who scored one aim towards Pittsburgh in final yr’s playoffs?

This yr, the tables turned.

Washington’s Evgeny Kuznetsov, who scored the series-clinching aim on a breakaway in extra time, has seven targets and 14 factors in 12 video games. Two years in the past, he had only a aim and one help in 10 video games. Goaltender Braden Holtby had a .921 save share towards the Penguins, which was a big enchancment from the .887 save share he had towards them a yr in the past.

Excluding Crosby and Guentzel, who’re tied for the playoff scoring lead, Pittsburgh’s prime weapons went silent towards the Capitals. Kessel had no targets in six video games, whereas Malkin, who missed Video games 1 and a couple of with an harm, managed a aim and two assists after a season through which he completed fourth in scoring. Murray, in the meantime, had one among his worst playoff rounds of his younger profession.

So whereas loads of the blame through the years unfairly landed on No. 8’s shoulders, he’s now most likely receiving way more reward than he truly deserves. That’s superb. If the Capitals bow out to the Tampa Bay Lightning within the convention closing, Ovechkin will put on the horns once more.

But when Washington manages to go all the way in which, possibly the NHL’s most misunderstood participant will get an opportunity to re-write his legacy. After all, for that to occur he’ll proceed to want loads of assist.

Electronic mail: mtraikos@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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