In a move that really was only a matter of time, Ovechkin debuted Tuesday night as the Washington Capitals' captain, becoming the 14th player and first European in team history to bear the honor.
Chris Clark was the captain until he was traded to Columbus last week.
The Caps won in Ovechkin's debut, beating Montreal, 4-2, Tuesday to snap a three-game losing skid. Alexander Semin scored twice and Tomas Fleischmann, in his first game at center, had a goal and two assists. Ovechkin was held off the scoresheet for just the eighth time this season.
"I'm proud. It's a big honor for me," Ovechkin said. "I'm going to do my best, but still I don't want to concentrate on just having the 'C' on my heart. I'm going to do the same thing."
Ovechkin, 24, becomes the third youngest captain in the NHL behind Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, 22, and Chicago's Jonathan Toews, 21. Six of the 28 captains in the NHL are 25 or younger, including Columbus' Rick Nash, Los Angeles' Dustin Brown and Philadelphia's Mike Richards.
"He's been the face of the franchise for a long time," Caps defenseman Tom Poti said. "Well deserved and well earned."
Originally, GM George McPhee and coach Bruce Boudreau said they were going to take their time in making this selection out of respect for Clark and the letter. They also wanted to make sure they were picking the right guy, not just any guy because of his name or ability.
It took all of seven days for them to decide because really, there is nobody in the dressing room more suited to be the Caps' captain than Ovechkin. Even the rest of the team knows that.
Boudreau said he had polled the team in recent days and Ovechkin was the unanimous choice.
"Who else is it supposed to be but the biggest leader on our team," Fleischmann said. "We wanted it to be him."
"They were really happy when I told them (Tuesday) morning and this doesn't happen too often, but the group got up and cheered," Boudreau said. "I had talked to a lot of them in the last couple of days and they said Alex was the only choice, 'He's our leader and he's our guy.'"
Washington's free wheeling, fun-loving, high scoring ways are a direct reflection of their best player. Ovi has the respect of everybody in the dressing room for the way he plays, with his incredible mix of skill and power. And, he has basically single-handedly rejuvenated Washington, turning it into a marquee hockey market and Verizon Center into a major home-ice advantage.
It helps, too, that Ovechkin is signed through the 2020-21 season.
"The thing that sort of shows how he was ready was when I talked to him two or three days ago about it, he said, 'I would accept the responsibility but only if my teammates want me to. If they're happy with me as a captain, I'd be glad to be captain,'" Boudreau said. "He was already thinking about the team rather than thinking about himself, which is what captain's do."
"I think if different guys on the team want me to represent the team it means a lot," Ovechkin said. "I have the trust and that's a very good thing."
Boudreau told Ovechkin he was the choice Monday and then he informed the team Tuesday, but the Capitals kept it a secret until around 6:30 Tuesday night when Ovechkin emerged from the dressing room for warm-ups with the 'C' on over his left shoulder.
Ovechkin is already a two-time winner of both the Hart and Rocket Richard Trophies and the Lester B. Pearson Award. He also won Calder Trophy in 2006.
"I think he's got all the qualities you look for in a captain, and to see that in someone so young is incredible," said former Washington captain Yvon Labre. "He's been a leader since he's been here, and he leads by example. If he gets upset, you can see him start to take over a game. There's no doubt he's deserving."
Ovechkin said he's going to be more of a leader by example, but he won't hesitate to make his voice heard in the dressing room either.
"We have lots of guys who can talk, but if I need to say something I'm going to say something," Ovechkin said. "I'm just going to show it on the ice and if I need to say something in the locker room, I will."
Boudreau expects Ovechkin's on-ice leadership to shine through, but the Capitals will still need someone else to replace everything Clark did off the ice, such as gather the team for functions. Clark's wife even took care of the rest of the players' wives.
"(Clark) took care of the room. Ovi is taking care of the ice," Boudreau said. "I can't picture Alex getting on the phone saying, 'Listen, we all have to be at dinner at this guys' house.' It just isn't going to happen."
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