The Washington Capitals are starting to look more like legitimate contenders for the Stanley Cup again, and Alex Ovechkin is a big reason why.
Washington went through an identity shift in the middle of this season, as coach Bruce Boudreau decided the team's offensive struggles made it imperative for them to be more responsible at the defensive end. The team's ability to prevent goals dramatically has improved from last season, but the offense continued to slump -- much like it did in the final three games of the club's first-round playoff loss to Montreal last spring.
In the last few games, however, Ovechkin's production has spiked, and Washington's offense now looks more like it the one from the past few seasons.
Since then, however, their captain has led the resurgence. Ovechkin has 6 goals and 16 points in the past 11 games and he has at least a point in 10 of those 11 games. This is his best stretch of the season, in total production and consistency.
Not coincidently, the team's output has improved. The Capitals have scored 29 goals in these 11 games (2.64 per contest) -- still far off their League-leading standard of 3.82 per game from last season, but more than enough for the team to succeed when paired with its new defensive acumen.
The end result is simple -- Washington has won nine of these 11 games, moving back to the top of the Southeast Division and within two points of the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
"It was nice to get a couple of goals, and to get to 600 (career points) is kind of a big night," Ovechkin told reporters Wednesday after his first multi-goal game since Jan. 22 against Toronto.
Ovechkin's surge has been helped by a return to form of sorts on the power play. He was a dominant force with the man-advantage in his first five seasons, leading the NHL with 91 extra-man goals in that span.
He has 6 power-play goals this season, far off his typical pace, but three of them have come during this 11-game stretch. Ovechkin's power-play goal Wednesday against Edmonton at Verizon Center was his first at home this season.
Ovechkin's power-play goal was one of two on the night for the Capitals -- not typically a noteworthy achievement, but this was the first time Washington had scored multiple goals with the man-advantage in 44 games, a franchise record.
"I think our power play finally worked, we scored two goals and we won the hockey game," Ovechkin told reporters. "It was a good night for us and a good night for the fans, too."
Follow Corey Masisak on Twitter at: @cmasisak22