All about the "O"

THIS is why he got a $124 million contract extension!

This also is why there’s playoff chatter in the Beltway.

Anyone who didn’t know the name Alexander Ovechkin before this weekend certainly now knows who he is – quite possibly the face of the NHL.

During Saturday’s SuperSkills competition during All-Star weekend in Atlanta, he was the showboat, bouncing the puck on his stick like he was playing hurley before trying to the bat the puck past the goaltender.

His attempt to emulate Washington Nationals star Dmitri Young failed. Then again, it’s a safe bet Young could never do on skates what Ovechkin has done recently either.

Ovechkin, the league’s leading goal scorer with 39 heading into the break, scored twice in the first period for the Eastern Conference in their 8-7 All-Star win over the West on Sunday. He and the rest of the Washington Capitals were blanked in Tuesday as regular-season play resumed.

But Ovechkin more than made up for that on Thursday despite a broken nose – his fourth goal and career high-tying fifth point lifted the Caps to a 5-4 overtime win over the Montreal Canadiens.

"Today was a special day," Ovechkin said with a smile. "I broke my nose, have stitches (and) score four goals. Everything (went) to my face."

In just two-plus seasons, Ovechkin already is 14th on the Caps’ all-time goal scoring list with 141, having passed Dmitri Khristich on Thursday. Nine more goals will move Alexander The Great past Sergei Gonchar, Steve Konowalchuk and Kevin Hatcher.

Perhaps justifiably so, the NHL has been shoving the Pittsburgh Penguins’Sidney Crosby down our throats. The reigning Hart and Vezina Trophy winner has been anointed the face of the league as it continues to recover from a lockout that burned off the 2004-05 season.

It may simply be that the league is more comfortable with a Canadian at the forefront of its marketing efforts. Ovechkin is shown during commercials for the league’s “Live Every Shift” campaign, saying “is this the year” in his native Russian, but taking a back seat to Crosby, Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres and Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes.

Ovechkin also was in the commercial for the NHL08 video game, but don’t be mistaken: that was not him warbling Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me.”

While Crosby recovers from high ankle sprain that could easily keep him out another month, Ovechkin would be wise to use this time to keep carrying the Caps on his back. Washington was 6-14-1 when Bruce Boudreau replaced Glen Hanlon behind the bench, and Ovechkin has responded with 29 goals and 18 assists in 31 games.

That surge has pushed the Caps into playoff contention.

It’s also signaled that there may be a new face of the NHL.


1. Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals: A surprise to no one. His fourth goal and fifth point of the game 3:34 into overtime lifted the Caps to a 5-4 win over the Montreal Canadiens for a split of their home-and-home series. In 52 games, Ovechkin has 43 goals – three short of his total in 82 games last season, and 10 shy of a new career high (he had 52 as a rookie in 2005-06.)

2. Stephen Valiquette, New York Rangers: The backup to Henrik Lundqvist made 20 saves for his first NHL shutout in a 4-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. Valiquette's effort helped New York snap a five-game road losing streak while extending its winning streak at the Wachovia Center to six.

3. J.P. Dumont, Nashville Predators: Dumont extended his points streak to 16 games -- the league's longest this season -- with two assists in a 4-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Nearly half of Dumont’s 43 points this season have come during this run, in which he has eight goals and 14 assists.

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