This week Alex Ovechkin will take on the job of Olympic Torchbearer. It isn’t a job they give out randomly, you have to be the best, the best and the best known. You have to exude the essence of your sport. The Alex Ovechkin who fulfilled NHL fans dreams of a more exciting game coming out of the dead puck era was exactly that man. He dominated defenses and gouged goaltenders from day one. That is the man who was selected to be a torchbearer.
For the first five years of his career Alex Ovechkin was the torchbearer, the icon, the beacon of scoring prowess, love of game, and over powering exuberance. You couldn’t go a game without some jaw dropping display of hand eye coordination and athleticism. His goal celebrations were legend. More remarkable was how hard it was to know if he’d scored or a teammate, he just loved goals.
Two season back, he a wall. His goal production dropped twenty goals in just one year. Their were rumors, all sorts of rumors. Some of it was the usual anti-Russisan xenophobia so typical north of the 49th parallel. A closer look at the dip will reveal personal problems off the ice, and injuries to both himself and key pieces of the Washington Capitals offense. About the same time a coach ran out of tricks for motivating teams. A new coach came in, and he wasn’t that good.
This year we’ll see Alex Ovechkin playing under a hall of fame player turned coach. Better still, we’ll see him playing under a coach who respects him and understands offense as well anyone who has ever played the game. Backstrom is healthy. Green is healthy. Laich is healthy too. Grabovski has something to prove. The team is poised for 90+ points and another playoff appearance.
But will we see Alex Ovechkin regain the top rung? In recent years Stamkos among others have grabbed the headlines and bright lights. Can the 28 year old dynamo from Moscow compete with the fresh young (Canadian) faces? With a healthy team, and a wide open division what is a good benchmark for success? Will 40 goals be good enough for the man who averaged over 53 goals a season his first five years? Does he need to eclipse the 50 goal mark? We know the great 8 will take up the Olympic torch in Greece, what we don’t know is if he can reignite the NHL torch and once more be its frontrunner.