*** Update *** Wow, I am eating crow today. Ovechkin limped down the stretch following the Olympic break, while Henrik came through in the clutch. Amazingly, Sidney Crosby, who looked like he would finish a distant third, had a great surge toward the end to finish second in the points race (tied with Ovie, but gets the tie-breaker because he had one more goal than Ovechkin). Great, compelling drama in the individual awards races down the stretch.
Congratulations to Henrik Sedin for capturing the first ever scoring title by a Vancouver Canucks player. Sorry I doubted you sir. 🙂
Just a couple of short weeks ago Vancouver Canucks fans were abuzz with excitement. Henrik Sedin was atop the scoring race with a healthy lead over potential Art Ross candidates like Joe Thornton, Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. Of course it is natural to be excited when one of your team’s players leads the league in scoring, but considering that no Vancouver Canuck has ever finished the season atop the scoring race (Markus Naslund was the only one to come close) fans and media alike were abuzz with the possibility that Henrik could capture the 2010 Art Ross Trophy.
Henrik, up until now a perennial point-a-game player, has this season emerged as one of the game’s greatest superstars, and he, brother Daniel, and grinder turned sniper Alexandre Burrows have arguably been the league’s best line through the two-third mark of the NHL season. Stronger, faster, and more determined than ever, the Sedins (and Burrows) have terrorized opposing defensemen, who have been largely helpless to defend against their dominating cycle, their uncanny no-look passes, and their much-improved shooting ability. Up until the last couple of weeks the line, and most particularly Henrik, seemed unstoppable and it looked like Henrik might indeed have a legitimate shot of becoming the first Vancouver Canuck to nab the Art Ross.
What a difference a couple of weeks makes. Alexander Ovechkin has been on an absolute tear while Sedin has cooled off considerably. Going into today’s action Ovechkin had erased Henrik’s sizable lead, passed him, and sat 4 points ahead in the scoring race – 82 to 78. However, it was Ovechkin’s performance today against the Sidney-Crosby-led, arch rival Pittsburgh Penguins that looks to have sounded the death knell on Henrik Sedin’s Art Ross hopes.
With his Washington Capitals trailing the Pens 4-2 going into the third period Ovechkin scored two goals in the final frame to tie that game up and send it to overtime. He managed the feat despite taking a hard cross check to the ribs that seemed to have him laboring. Though he was lacking his usual flash and dash Ovechkin still has that nose for the net and that wicked release, and those two attributes allowed him to beat a helpless Marc-Andre Fleury for the 4-3 and 4-4 goals.
In overtime the Penguins looked like the better team, with Washington generating little in the way of offensive chances. However, an undisciplined high-sticking penalty by rugged Pittsburgh defender Brooks Orpik gave the Caps a 4-3 powerplay with under 3 minutes left in overtime. There was no mystery that the play was to give the puck to Ovechkin and the Pens did their best to overplay to his side, but Ovechkin still managed to get a low shot through traffic. The puck rattled off the post and back under Fleury, where Mike Knuble was waiting to poke it into the net.
Ovechkin finished the game with 3 goals and 1 assist, overshadowing Sidney Crosby’s 2 goal effort in a losing cause, and extending his lead in the scoring race to what appears to be an unassailable 8 points. Now it may seem premature to concede the scoring title to Ovechkin with 25 games left in the season, but you have to remember that Ovechkin actually missed some time early in the year due to injury and suspension and has managed to build this lead despite the fact that he has played 7 or 8 fewer games than Crosby, Sedin or Thornton, giving him a points per game average much higher than his competitors. Barring injury to Ovechkin it is hard to imagine that any of the three are going to be able to gain any ground on the Russian superstar. In fact, it is more likely that Ovechkin will continue to widen the gulf and by the time the curtain falls on game 82 of the regular season he will have won the scoring title by a landslide.
Ovie’s 3 goals (to Crosby’s 2) also extended his lead for the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s leading goal scorer. He now has 42 goals to Crosby’s 39, and despite Crosby’s emergence as a sniper this season it is hard to imagine Sid the Kid reeling in the Great 8 down the stretch.
Ovechkin’s clutch performance this afternoon also played a huge role in extending the Washington Capitals’ incredible winning streak to 14 games. Ironically, it is the Pittsburgh Penguins franchise that holds the record for the longest consecutive regular season winning streak, a mark of 17 straight set by the Mario-Lemieux-led Penguins back in 1993. You know Crosby and the Penguins are kicking themselves after blowing a golden chance to end the streak.