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Ovechkin An Acquired Taste

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
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Leafs’ goalie Martin Gerber won’t watch Alexander Ovechkin’s goal celebrations.

In that, he is pretty well alone.

Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals play the Leafs, Tuesday at Air Canada Centre. Vapor trails and controversy follows the Caps brilliant forward.

Ovechkin’s 50th goal, struck against Tampa on Thursday, was a work of art, a one-on-three beauty. It was also quite possibly sullied when Ovechkin dropped his stick and either (a) worshipped it, (b) gave up picking it up because it was so hot, metaphorically speaking, or (c) struggled with an undiagnosed phobia of composite hockey sticks.

Alexander Ovechkin loves to score goals but 51 goals somehow is less of a cachet than 50 so no one should expect any stick exorcisms, that is unless Ovechkin scores another 49 after that.

It almost seems possible. If you think you are in awe of what the Russian superstar can do, you should speak to men assigned to stop him.

“As a player you are amazed,” said Leafs forward Jason Blake. “The goal he scored in Montreal (Ovechkin chipped the puck off the boards, somehow spun recovered the puck and scored) some of the stuff he does is unbelievable. If he celebrates the way he does that’s fine. If you score goals the way he does, you can do that.”

Gerber says he will lose all interest in Ovechkin should the puck crosses his goal line.

“I don’t pay attention. Everyone has to do what he has to do. I guess it makes him feel better. I don’t care.”

“I think he earned the right to do that, especially on his 50th goal,” said Leafs’ forward Lee Stempniak. “You can’t fault him. I like seeing that passion and the joy. For most players, you don’t want to see it (the Tampa celebration) every day, but I think he has the right.”

What can’t be debated is the notion that Ovechkin is as unique a phenomenon as has ever streaked across the NHL firmament.

Blake sees Peter Forsberg as the closest comparable player.

“He scores goals, he puts up numbers night after night and he runs over people constantly,” Blake said. “To me he’s a complete player.”

Gerber struggles to focus on just one of Ovechkin’s gifts.

“He pretty much does everything. He has a great shot, he can release it from anywhere. He finds holes, he’s a great skater on top of that. He is really dangerous on the rush or when the puck is turned over. That’s what he is waiting for.”

Monday, forward Niklas Hagman practiced for the first time with the Leafs since he was concussed by an elbow from Islanders defenceman Brendan Witt. Witt served a five-game suspension for the elbow. Hagman has missed 11 games. He is scheduled for another neurological test at week’s end and a determination will be made when or if he will play this season.

Winger Alexei Ponikarovsky’s two goals Saturday in Montreal give him 21. He needs one more to hit a career high. Since the trade of longtime linemate Nik Antropov, Ponikarovsky has recorded 14 points including four on Saturday when the line he shares with Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin absolutely dominated the Canadiens.

Ponikarovsky has already hit a career high in points with 53 and has played in every one of the Leafs 73 contests. He is plus six.

“Pony is what he is,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson. “He’s a 20-25 goal scorer. I’m happy with his play. He’s never going to be a real physical player, but once you get over that you realize he’s a plus player and he has been all season long.”

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