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Capitals' Ovechkin looks to follow another 50-goal season with playoff success

04/13/2015 12:01 EDT | Updated 06/19/2015 04:59 EDT
Alex Ovechkin shoots the puck more than anyone, and it's not close. Since he entered the NHL in 2005-06, the Washington Capitals star and three-time MVP has 3,830 shots — over a thousand more than his closest competitor.

There's an old Wayne Gretzky saying: "You miss 100 per cent of the shots you don't take." As teammate Mike Green said, "Alex grasps that to a great degree."

Ovechkin makes more from his shots than anyone, too, as the only 400-goal scorer over the past decade. This was his sixth season with at least 50 goals — a campaign coach Barry Trotz called "one of the best seasons in NHL history" based on scoring league-wide. Only Gretzky, Mike Bossy, Marcel Dionne, Guy Lafleur and Mario Lemieux have duplicated that feat.

"He's got dynamic abilities, he's a big strong guy, his one-on-one skills are fantastic," Trotz said. "He's one of those rare guys that can score goals but he can also be a physically dominant player and an intimidating player."

The next step for Ovechkin's Capitals is to make their regular-season success carry on to the playoffs. The Russian left-winger is over a point-a-game player in the post-season, but this spring is a chance for him to take his reinvented game under Trotz to the next level.

Ovechkin said before the Winter Classic that he looks at the game in a different way now from a personal perspective. From a team perspective, the long-range goal remains the same as the Capitals embark on their sixth playoff campaign in the past seven years, beginning with Game 1 against the New York Islanders on Wednesday night.

"I think we understand as a group it's time to move forward," Ovechkin said. "We have to take this time and it has to be our time."

There are reasons to believe it is. Goaltender Braden Holtby had a career year making a league-high 73 appearances, the blue-line is deeper than ever with the additions of Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen and Tim Gleason, and the Capitals have other offensive pieces in Nicklas Backstrom, Troy Brouwer, Marcus Johansson, Joel Ward and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Of course it starts with Ovechkin, Washington's captain and most important player. Now 29, he said he's growing up and is more mature, and teammates have noticed that on the ice.

"Alex has been very successful throughout his whole career and won a lot of individual awards," Green said before the Winter Classic. "As you get older you get a little bit wiser and I think a lot to do with Barry's influence on him has made him sort of see the importance of us being successful as a team."

Trotz is getting a lot of deserved credit for helping Ovechkin transition back to left-wing after two seasons on the right side under Adam Oates. Ovechkin is a more complete player now than he was under any previous coach, and that's part of why he's getting chatter for a fourth Hart Trophy.

"He seems to be having more fun to me," general manager Brian MacLellan told reporters after Capitals practice Monday. "I think he's more comfortable with his game with the way it is now, and it's a lot more fun when you're playing as a team and you’re winning as a team."

What has made the Capitals win and made Ovechkin so dangerous in the playoffs is his willingness and sometimes stubborn insistence to go best-on-best. Former Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau used to move him around to avoid defencemen like Shea Weber and Zdeno Chara, but more recently Ovechkin has gone head-to-head with those kinds of elite opponents.

"With some players, you can put up against the Webers or the Charas of the world, and some guys can fade away, but Alex actually loves those," Trotz said. "He loves to chop the tree down if he can, so he loves those matchups, he views them as a personal challenge. ... He's sort of fearless that way."

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