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Ovi shooting more than ever during torrid streak

by Adam Kimelman

The sun wasn't shining any brighter and the ice wasn't any smoother than normal for Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin when he woke up on the morning of March 17.

That night at Verizon Center against the Buffalo Sabres, Ovechkin was in the high slot when Nicklas Backstrom won a faceoff to him and he blistered a shot past Ryan Miller 19 seconds into the game to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead.

It was the 350th goal of his career but just the 10th of his season -- to that point.

"It's the kind of situation where I have to shoot as hard as I can and hope it goes in," Ovechkin told reporters that night. "It goes in, so I'm pretty happy."

If Ovechkin was happy then, he must have a million-watt smile right now.

Alex Ovechkin
Alex Ovechkin
Left Wing - WSH
G: 10 | A: 5 | P: 15
SOG: 67 | +/-: -3
Ovechkin had at least a goal in his next four games and finished the 2012-13 season with 22 goals in his final 21 games to give him a League-best 32.

And that success has carried over to this season, as Ovechkin's late first-period goal Thursday against the Edmonton Oilers gave him a League-best 10 goals in 10 games this season, and a remarkable 32 goals in his past 31 regular-season games.

While it may have taken a while, Ovechkin's success shows he's fully bought into how coach Adam Oates wants him to play, including the big shift from left wing to right wing.

"It took me a long time to get used to it, but I had patience and my linemates had patience," Ovechkin told The Edmonton Journal. "We figured it out. I am used to scoring goals and I had to think of doing things differently. You get different angles for your shot from right wing."

Ovechkin may be on a goal-per-game pace now -- in fact, he's been held without a goal in just two of the Capitals' 10 games -- but Oates thinks there's even another level his star sniper can reach.

"We're always looking for new ways to get him touches, at different parts of the ice, where he can be successful," Oates told The Edmonton Journal. "There's still lots of room for him to grow [at right wing]. He did things 23 years of his life one way."

With every goal it seems Ovechkin's legion of fans is growing after two seasons that saw critics try to dim his star.

"I love the way Ovechkin plays," Oilers coach Dallas Eakins said. "He's well-rounded. It's not like he's one of the skilled players out there that are maybe of smaller stature and all you have to worry about is their speed and skill. With Ovechkin you have to worry that he can run you over too. I feel bad for the defensemen in the League that have to go out and challenge this guy because he can beat you with strength, he can beat you with speed and he's got a little bit of fire in his game, which for me is always great to see in a player."

How much greater can Ovechkin get? While his goal-per-game pace probably isn't sustainable over 82 games, could he challenge his career-best of 65 from the 2007-08 season?

He has a League-high 67 shots on goal, but leading the League in that category is nothing new for him. In Ovechkin's first eight seasons he led the League in shots seven times, including his first six seasons.

He's on pace for a career-high 549 shots -- 21 more than his previous high of 528 in 2008-09, and 103 more than the 446 he needed to score 65 in 2007-08.

While more shots on goal doesn't automatically equate to more goals, Ovechkin never has been more accurate than he's been this season, with a 14.9 shooting percentage; his previous best was 2007-08, when he scored on 14.6 percent of his shots en route to 65 goals. His career shooting percentage is 12.2.

Obviously there will be dips in Ovechkin's production during the season. But he's always been a high-volume shooter -- he has at least five shots in seven of 10 games this season, including 11 Oct. 3 against the Calgary Flames, the team he'll face Saturday (10 p.m. ET, CBC) -- and considering Ovechkin averages more than 20 minutes of ice time per game, 549 shots certainly is possible. And if he hits that total even with his career-average accuracy, it equates to 67 goals.

No one has scored that many goals in a season since Mario Lemieux had 69 in 1995-96, and there's only been three 60-goal seasons since then -- Jaromir Jagr with 62 in 1995-96, Ovechkin's 65 in 2007-08 and Steven Stamkos scored 60 in 2011-12.

But then again, no one thought much of that one goal early in a game against the Buffalo Sabres in March.


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