WASHINGTON, DC – Admittedly, Washington Capitals Coach Adam Oates has a personal preference in the Hart Trophy race for NHL MVP, having watched captain Alex Ovechkin score 18 goals in 16 games to lead his team back from the dead to the Southeast Division lead.
“I’m obviously very biased about that, so my answer would be ‘Yup, absolutely,’” said the Capitals coach, when asked if Ovechkin is the MVP this season.
That’s no disrespect to the odds-on favorite from the Pittsburgh Penguins, mind you.
“Obviously Sidney Crosby is another candidate, for sure,” said Oates. “He had such a scoring lead, but I think you have to factor in the fact that he missed a lot of games.”
Crosby has 56 points in 36 games, with 15 goals. Ovechkin now has 48 points in 43 games, with a league-leading 28 goals.
(And doesn’t it warm the hockey heart to have both of those players mentioned in the same breath again, and not in some half-hearted attempt to resurrect an expired rivalry?)
In Washington’s 5-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday, Ovechkin scored a power-play goal and set up Martin Erat’s first as a Capital with a pass to the crease. Ovechkin’s 15 power-play goals leads the NHL; no one else is in double-digits as of Tuesday night.
He also had a moment of captainly leadership when Nicklas Backstrom was shoved into the boards by the Leafs’ Jay McClement.
After the hit, Ovechkin jumped McClement, earning a 2-minute roughing penalty in the first period but firing up both his teammates – who killed the power play – and the home crowd, who chanted his name as he sat in the penalty box.
“You can hear the crowd. The guys said we’re going to kill it all day long, those penalties. [Chimera] did a good job jumping in to say you can’t touch our best players. It showed the character of the team,” said Ovechkin.
“I just stepped up for my teammate.”
His teammate was appreciative.
“It was great. We’re a great group of guys and we stand up for each other,” said Backstrom.
There are other MVP candidates in the NHL this season: John Tavares of the New York Islanders, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks, as well as goalie Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets. But Crosby and Ovechkin may be the front-runners: The Penguins captain having made a convincing case before his injury, and the Capitals captain having closed the gap dramatically since St. Patrick’s Day.
“Obviously, Alex has really led our team. You see it every night now. You saw his energy tonight,” said Oates.
“Every team we play has to focus on him. He’s in a good place.”
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