It’s a unique thing when Alexander Ovechkin is on and everyone knows it.
His teammates. The coaching staff. The person serving hotdogs in whatever National Hockey League arena he happens to be gracing that evening.
Just 10 games into the 2013-14 campaign, it’s very apparent that No. 8 is on.
“I just feel comfortable right now,” Ovechkin said Friday, following an up-beat skate at Calgary’s WinSport Arenas ahead of Saturday’s game against the road-weary Calgary Flames. “When you feel comfortable, it’s easy to play and easy to do some work … I’m motivated. I want to win, you know? We’re not going to win if our good players aren’t going to play hard for our team, you know?”
Which, of course, is infectious in the dressing room.
“Aside from being his teammate, I’m a fan,” Troy Brouwer said. “I love watching him score. I love watching his goals. I love watching his celebrations and how much energy he has when he scores and how he can make opposing buildings excited.”
After a lockout-shortened 2013 season — one which eventually saw Ovechkin capture his third Hart Trophy as league MVP — it’s clear winger is emerging under second-year head coach Adam Oates who loosened the Dale Hunter-implemented defensive style and switched him from the left side to the right.
He also cannot go a day without reporters asking questions about his star player’s star qualities.
“I watched him as a fan before but never on a day-to-day basis, just saw the highlights,” Oates said. “He’s a goal-scorer. We’re trying to find every way we can to incorporate his scoring into the team. He’s doing a great job with that. He’s also our leader.
“We count on him to get those quality chances every night.”
The bad news for the Calgary Flames is that the 28-year-old Russian arrives in the city riding a career-best start.
In 10 games, Ovechkin has 10 goals which beats the nine goals he had in the first 10 games of the 2009-10 season. His game is ‘on’ much quicker than the 2007-08 season which eventually saw him net 65 goals and 112 points to capture the Rocket Richard and Art Ross trophies.
In seven career games against the Flames, he’s netted eight goals and seven points and delivered 13 hits. Stopping him is nearly impossible — he’s six-three and 225 points and shoots from everywhere.
But it’s his ability to change a game that really makes an impact on the Capitals, especially amid a three-game winning streak that includes a 5-4 shootout win against the Winnipeg Jets and Thursday’s 4-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers.
“It’s the best I’ve seen him play,” said Washington defenceman Karl Alzner. “You see him getting back on the back check, getting in good spots defensively … you can just see, he has a little more jump in his step. He starts hitting guys. He’s calling for the puck the whole time he’s out there.
“It’s almost like a switch goes off for him and then he starts going full-tilt … and he’s got that switch flipped on right now.”
At the moment, he’s also shooting the puck more than anyone in the league with 67 shots on net, converting 14.9 per cent of those into goals. Sure, it’s an 82-game season but those numbers — even early on — are impressive.
“It’s just 10 games in,” Ovechkin said. “Last year, I don’t know how many goals I had in 10 games, maybe one or two. But, I’m enjoying playing hockey right now and we’ll see what’s going to happen.”
As the face of the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Ovechkin admits that the Games are playing into this season. His mother, Tatyana, was a national basketball player and won two Olympic gold medals, including one in Moscow.
“Of course, I am thinking about Sochi,” he said. “But it’s way too long to Sochi right now. I just try to play the game hard and do my best and try to help my team. Of course (the Olympics) motivates me. All the time. Because I’m going to play in my home, in front of my family and friends. All the Russian people are waiting for this moment, maybe their whole life, to see the Olympic Games in Sochi. My mom was an Olympic champion and won her gold medal in Moscow.
“It was unbelievable and I hope it is going to be the same.”
But two dates into a five-game road swing, Ovechkin is on and so are the Capitals.
“Winning makes better feelings than when you lose,” he said. “We won three and we want to keep going … we have to keep playing the same way.”
Follow on Twitter/KristenOdlandCH
© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald