Alexander The Admired


For those members of the Calgary Flames without television sets, they saw all they needed in one night -- Oct. 30, 2006.


For those members of the Calgary Flames without television sets, they saw all they needed in one night -- Oct. 30, 2006.

The Flames' first game against Alex Ovechkin, wizard of the Washington Capitals, served as a 28-shift testimonial.

There was Ovechkin happily banging, shoulder to shoulder, with Dion Phaneuf.

There was Ovechkin pilfering the puck.

There was Ovechkin setting up goals, smoothing sharking around the neutral zone.

The kid never did score, but his crew prevailed 4-2 at the Pengrowth Saddledome.

"If I was a fan, I would pay to see him play -- he's that exciting, he's that good," Flames winger Alex Tanguay said earlier this season. "And he's got such an enthusiasm for the game."

Arguably the National Hockey League's best player, Ovechkin welcomes the Calgarians into the Verizon Center today (5 p.m., The FAN 960, Pay per view). It's not a stretch to suggest that the 22-year-old winger will be a night-long obsession for the lads in white.

"We see him every day," said Washington skipper Bruce Boudreau, "and there's been four or five occasions when you say, 'He can't top this, he can't be better than this, he can't do that.'

"And then he does."

Right now, the Russian dynamo is the league's reigning player of the week, not to mention its top point-getter (95), its top goal-scorer (54), its top shot-taker, its top . . . well, you get the idea.

"I've only seen him play once (live) and that was last season," Tanguay said after Monday's win over the St. Louis Blues. "Of course, we see him a lot on TV. He's a player who's exciting. He's a player everybody wants to see. He's a player who fills rinks. It's going to be fun to play against him, but we're hoping he'll wait until the next game before he scores again."

While 21 minutes of ice time more than 16 months ago stands as a memorable enough experience for most of the Flames, Cory Sarich's knowledge goes deeper.

As a defenceman of the Tampa Bay Lightning -- Southeast Division mates of the Caps -- the veteran got more than a peek at Ovechkin.

In 16 games, Sarich saw Ovechkin pile up 19 points, including nine goals.

So take it from someone who knows.

"Definitely a dominant force," said Sarich. "He's got such a well-rounded game -- that's what makes him dangerous."

And by "well-rounded," Sarich doesn't mean setting up goals and scoring them, too.

He means burying pucks and burying opponents with equal ease, with equal appetite.

"He can go around you because he's got the skills and he can go right through you because he's an aggressive player," said Sarich. "I don't know if he's toned it down now, it being his third year in the league, but he used to definitely throw a lot of body around out there.

"It makes it difficult, especially on defencemen. Sometimes you're racing for a puck and you think, 'Hey, I'm going run over this guy,' and he gets the puck and goes around you. Next time you ease up a little bit because you're going to make a play on the puck and he rolls right over you. So he keeps you on your toes."

Last week, Boston Bruins toughie Shane Hnidy managed to cork Ovechkin with an open-ice belt.

Ease up on a superstar? Forget about it.

Get your licks in before he does -- that was Hnidy's post-game message to reporters.

"I was just finishing a hit," said Hnidy. "He's a guy that I know would put me through the ice, too. The way he plays, physically and offensively, he puts everything into it. He's a competitor. That's what we have to be. Everyone has to finish their hits and be strong."

Finish hits, be strong -- sounds easy enough.

But it ain't.

Ask Philadelphia Flyers rearguard Derian Hatcher.

"Honestly, in my 17 years, I think he is the hardest player to play against," said Hatcher. "One on one, he's the toughest to defend. Ovechkin's so strong, you see guys run at him, he knocks them on their (butt). He's so strong, it throws another whole dynamic into it. There are a lot of quick guys who can shoot. But you can't knock Ovechkin off the puck, can't knock him off his feet."

Tonight, Sarich and Robyn Regehr figure to draw the negate-No. 8 assignment.

Wish them -- and goalie Miikka Kiprusoff -- well.

"You need to be close with him because he's always lurking near his blueline, trying to get a jump on you, so you have to have a decent gap there," explained Sarich. "The biggest thing is matching his speed through the neutral zone. You just have to be moving with him, not caught standing still.

"The best way to defend against him is to spend as much time as you can in their end. That's the least likely place he'd like to be on the ice . . . so you want to get that puck deep and just grind him out. I think that wears on him. He gets a little tired of just standing around -- he wants to be on the move."

He wants to move, yes.

And, my gosh, the right-hander wants to shoot. Then shoot some more. Then maybe a little more.

His 372 shots are, by far, the most in the league -- just like the previous two seasons.

His 176 missed shots are, by far, the most in the league.

"Five hundred shots he's taken," said Edmonton Oilers centre Marty Reasoner. "How can that be?"

And those totals don't even reflect pucks that he's had blocked.

But what hockey people are seeing from Ovechkin, they love.

"He's unbelievable," said Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "I admire the way he plays. I admire the enthusiasm. He can play a physical game. He can beat you one on one. He has a terrific shot. His energy and his passion, if you could bottle that and stick it inside your players, you would have an unbelievable team."

The GR8

Washington Capitals star winger Alexander Ovechkin, by the numbers:

1 - NHL rank for goals (54), inter-division goals (40), even-strength goals (36), road goals (28), home goals (26), power-play goals (18), game-winning goals (9).

2 - Career fights, both in 2006-07. Philadelphia's Mike Richards in the pre-season, Buffalo's Paul Gaustad in the regular season.

8 - Jersey number. Former No. 8 inhabitants include Tim Tookey, Lee Norwood, Larry Murphy, Bob Rouse, Dimitri Khristich, Jan Bulis, Josh Green. Future inhabitants of that particular sweater? Hmmm. Let's guess zero. By the way, Ovechkin wears No. 8 as a tribute to his mother, Tatiana, who wore the number while performing for Russia's Olympic gold-medal-winning basketball squad.

13 - Length, in years, of his contract extension, a pact worth $124 million US (which, reportedly, was brokered by his mother).

19 - Rank on Washington's all-time points charts in less than three full seasons, 10 ahead of Craig Laughlin and seven behind Dimitri Khristich. Tops is Peter Bondra, with 825. Ovechkin has passed 13 players already this winter.

22 - Age, born Sept. 17, 1985, at Moscow, Russia.

23 - Average ice time, in minutes. Fourth highest among forwards.

46 - Goal output his sophomore season, 2006-07. Fourth best.

52 - Goal output his rookie season, 2005-06. Third best.

63 - Takeaways, seventh most in the NHL.

176 - Missed shots. No one else is even close.

190 - Hits, which puts him 11th in the league. To put that into perspective, Dion Phaneuf has collected 172.

217 - Weight, in pounds, on his six-foot-two frame.

1,189 - Career shots. The annual totals - 425, 392, 372 - all top the NHL.

3,000 - Attendance increase at the Verizon Center since the 13-year extension was announced.


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