Jason Chimera had held onto the black stovepipe hat and increasingly grungy beard for too long. With the Washington Capitals mired in a four-game losing streak, he hadn't had an opportunity to bestow the "Honest Abe" award upon a deserving teammate.
The Capitals' 4-0 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins finally provided Chimera with that chance and his choice was a simple one, handing the accoutrements to Alex Ovechkin for the first time.
"Leaders lead," coach Barry Trotz said, relaying Chimera's postgame message. "And he led today."
Ovechkin scored twice against the Penguins, his third multi-goal performance in the past five games and 93rd of his career, trying Peter Bondra's franchise record. With 13 goals in 13 games, including a NHL-leading 12 in January, Ovechkin supplanted New York Rangers forward Rick Nash and Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin atop the league's goal-scoring leaderboard.
"I just think when Alex is determined, the way he is, lately, he creates much good offense," Trotz said. "He's dangerous. Every night you look at the stat sheet. If he scores or not, he's got 10 shots. There's guys in the league who go a month without 10 shots sometimes. I think he's having fun... He's been doing a really good job."
Much of the focus on Ovechkin this season has pertained to his commitment to the more unglamorous aspects of hockey, but his ability to improve upon his already unworldly offensive talent is also worth praise.
The Capitals record 55.4 percent of unblocked shot attempts when he's on the ice at even strength, a significant uptick from last season's 47.8. One more goal will give him 30, making him the fifth player in NHL history to score at least that amount in each of his first 10 seasons, joining Hall-of-Famers Mike Gartner, Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri and Mike Bossy.
His second goal Wednesday, a scorching one-timer from the left circle on the power play teed up expertly by Mike Green, was quintessential, but his first was reflective of the down-and-dirty mindset Trotz encourages his players to adopt.
With Jay Beagle assuming his recurring role opposite Ovechkin, Washington's first line adopted a cycle-heavy approach. Strong puck management eventually led to Karl Alzner flinging a puck toward the net. As the sequence unfolded, Ovechkin floated toward the front of the net, establishing position and deflecting Alzner's shot underneath Marc-Andre Fleury's right arm.
"He's not 20 years old anymore, so going down the wing and making those fancy moves and dekes, guys know what to expect and he's had to adjust," Green said. "I think he's done a great job. It's playing within the system and getting pucks deep. When he has an opportunity like tonight to go in front of the net and get a tip on net, it just shows the diversity in his game and how he's evolved."
As always but especially now, Ovechkin must be considered a frontrunner for the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy as the NHL's leading goal-scorer, which he could win for the third straight season and fifth overall. Leaning on a few old favorites while simultaneously adding to his repertoire will get him there.
"I think overall he's a better player," Nicklas Backstrom said. "He works all over the ice and that helps him in creating offense."
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