The critics have had to back off on Alex Ovechkin in recent weeks. The Capitals' star winger has shaken off a rough start to the 2013 season and is producing goals at a rapid clip again. His team has parlayed that into a 10-3-1 stretch that -- combined with an awful Southeast Division -- has it right back in the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference with just nine games remaining.
Make it 16 goals in 14 games for Ovechkin, who now has 25 on the season and was named the NHL's First Star of the week Monday. He scored five in two games over the weekend alone. That was enough to tie Tampa Bay center Steven Stamkos for the NHL lead entering play Monday.
"He's scoring on his chances. Obviously he's got a lot of shots during the game," Washington center Nicklas Backstrom said. "It makes it easier. And when he has confidence, it's fun to see and helps the team a lot."
It always has been that way for Ovechkin and the Caps. Backstrom is right. He is back on top of the NHL in shots on goal (176) and is averaging 4.5 shots per game. His shooting percentage is 14.2 percent, which would be the second highest of his career, so Ovechkin is a little luckier than normal. But he's also on pace for 53 goals in a full NHL season. Take away seven or eight and the Caps still would be thrilled with that production. There's no question a lethal power-play run by Backstrom and Mike Ribeiro has helped, too. Ovechkin has 14 power-play goals in 39 games. His career best is 22 -- and that was in 82 games.
- Brian McNally