With the Southeast Division and Eastern Conference titles already clinched, plus the best record in the NHL tucked away, it's safe to say the Washington Capitals
have reached all their regular season
team goals. What remains to be seen is whether certain individual goals can be met -- a Norris Trophy for Mike Green
perhaps, or another scoring title for Alex Ovechkin
Through Monday, Ovechkin (104 points) trails only Vancouver's Henrik Sedin
(106) for the Art Ross
Trophy, and his 46 goals (tied with Steven Stamkos
) are one behind Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby
for the Rocket Richard Trophy.
"If we keep winning, of course that would be nice," Ovechkin said of sweeping the NHL's points and goals titles. Ovechkin has led the NHL in both offensive categories for much of the season, despite missing 10 games (and parts of four others) due to injury and suspension. His plus-42 rating (through Monday) also is a League-best. Ovechkin denies giving the scoring race much thought, but his teammates are not convinced.
"It's one of those things you don't really talk about," Capitals forward Eric Fehr
said, "but I'm sure he knows where he is, and a lot of guys on the team know where he is."
Fehr led the Western Hockey League in scoring as a member of the Brandon Wheat Kings in 2004-05, and admits that "you're definitely keeping an eye on things," as the season winds down.
"Whether you admit it or not, you're on constant vigil," said Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau
, who led the American Hockey League in scoring in 1987-88 while playing for the Springfield Indians. "I wanted to know minute by minute what was happening because it's exciting when you're in a scoring race, and the people who aren't in it wish they were."
No player had more points in the AHL in the 1980s than Boudreau, who also finished second in scoring in 1982-83, one point behind Ross Yates in a race that came down to the last day of the season.
"I don't know how Ovi is handling it, but from my experience, you know exactly what your opponents are doing," said Boudreau. "Don't ever think it's a blasé thing, because it's important to everybody."
Ovechkin may be keeping tabs on Sedin and Crosby through box scores and highlights, but he will have a front-row seat for "The Crosby Show" Tuesday in Pittsburgh (7:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN2) as the Caps and Pens meet for the final time this season. In their last three meetings, Ovechkin has 5 goals and 3 assists, while Crosby has 3 goals and an assist.
"These are two of the most competitive hockey players in the world," Mike Knuble
said of Ovechkin and Crosby, the rivals who have been joined by Stamkos (46 goals through Monday) in what is a three-horse race for the Rocket Richard Trophy. "They might not let on as much, but they're watching each other nightly, wanting to know, 'Oh, what's he doing?' I guarantee it. It's natural from them just being so competitive."
Knuble was a scoring champion himself, as his 38 goals as a Michigan Wolverine in 1994-95 led the nation, while college linemate and current Caps teammate Brendan Morrison
led the country in points. Knuble remembers not only watching his competition for the scoring race, but also the urging from long-time coach Red Berenson
to break the school-record for goals in a season (40 at the time).
"He was pushing me for it," Knuble said. "He wanted it; the guys (on the team) wanted it. As long as you're winning, the individual numbers are fun to shoot for."
While the Capitals have run away atop the standings, Ovechkin's chase for individual hardware could come down to the final day of the season -- a script Morrison has seen before.
Morrison, a two-time NCAA scoring champ, never has played with an Art Ross
or Rocket Richard Trophy winner in the NHL, though he came close in Vancouver. Morrison centered one of the game's best lines from 2001-04, with Markus Naslund
and Todd Bertuzzi
. The trio, nicknamed the "West Coast Express," took off during the 2001-02 season, with Naslund and Bertuzzi finishing second and third in the NHL scoring race, behind only Calgary's Jarome Iginla
. Naslund maintained his form the following season and was in position to lead the NHL in goals and points in 2002-03.
"It came down to the last few games of the season," Morrison said. "Colorado was chasing us for the division and (Peter) Forsberg was chasing Naslund in the scoring race."
With two games to play, the Canucks led the Avalanche by two points in the Northwest Division and Naslund led Forsberg by one point in the scoring race. Naslund's 47 goals also were tied for the League lead with Colorado's Milan Hejduk
"Obviously there was a lot stake with the standings, but we also wanted 'Nasy' to finish on top," said Morrison.
The Canucks were shut out in their season finale, against the Kings, while Forsberg's 3 points led Colorado to a 5-2 win against St. Louis. The Avalanche won the division and Forsberg's 106 points were two better than Naslund's 104. Naslund's 48 goals were second to Hejduk's 50.
"That title means a lot to those guys, it's something you work for all year. It's a nice little feather in your cap and something you should be proud of as an individual. Nobody wants to finish second, especially out of (Ovechkin and Crosby), so of course they're looking around, looking at who's behind them, who they're playing, what are the chances they'll score, are they healthy, are they hurting. It's like a game within the game." -- Mike Knuble
"We were pissed off," Morrison said of seeing Naslund fall short in his scoring-title bid. "We wanted to get that for the guy, that's something that goes down in the record books forever, and as players you want to be able to say, 'Yeah, I played with that guy.'"
"When you have a guy up there, we as the Capitals are proud of him," Fehr said. "We're trying to get (Ovechkin) ahead any way we can and we love it when he scores because it usually means we're winning."
The Caps have won plenty this season, a franchise-best 51 times through Sunday, with Ovechkin's 6 game-winning goals leading the team. Washington is 26-3-4 this season when Ovechkin scores, and during the club's 14-game winning streak, Ovechkin had 15 goals in 11 of the wins.
"That title means a lot to those guys, it's something you work for all year," Knuble said. "It's a nice little feather in your cap and something you should be proud of as an individual. Nobody wants to finish second, especially out of (Ovechkin and Crosby), so of course they're looking around, looking at who's behind them, who they're playing, what are the chances they'll score, are they healthy, are they hurting. It's like a game within the game."