Alex the Grating: Ovechkin Needs To Act Like the Superstar He Is

Matt GajtkaCorrespondent IJanuary 15, 2009

Alex Ovechkin crafted a dominant performance in a pivotal game last night at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, helping his Washington Capitals to a slump-breaking 6-3 decision over the Penguins. His energy, physicality and irrepressible talent were on display, showing why many around the sport of hockey are deeming him the Best Player in the World.

Ovechkin's raw human magnetism is strong enough to draw in the elusive casual fan, plus his unique combination of skills is intriguing to hockey fans of any tenure.

Essentially, the man has everything going for him.

Everything, it seems, except a modicum of self-control.

In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that I am an avid follower of the Penguins for more than a decade. Thus, I have an interest in Sidney Crosby proving that the Calder Trophy voters of 2006 got it wrong when they handed Ovechkin the prize for the NHL's top first-year player.

I am also emotionally invested in the Penguins staying on the top of the Eastern Conference food chain for the next decade, and from my perspective, the Capitals are the biggest threat to that outcome.

On the other hand, I am also a fan of the great game of hockey first and foremost. I have a true weakness for pure goal-scorers like Ovechkin, probably because that's the type of player I'd want to be if I were fortunate enough to play in the Show.

In all of sports, nothing compares to the moment when puck hits twine, and the gentlemen who have the ability to make that magic happen will always be held in high personal regard.

Keeping all this in mind, it still bothers me when a player of Ovechkin's statue resorts to the kind of disrespectful behavior that he engaged in early in last night's third period.

Upon pumping home the goal that gave Washington its first lead of the game, the 23-year-old Muscovite launched into his usual explosive goal celebration, something that I have no qualms with. I'm all for the expression of joy; that's what scoring is all about.

But when Alex skated by the Penguins bench and taunted the opposition at a decibel level high enough for FSN Pittsburgh's on-ice mics to pick up, my feeling of respect for the superstar wing faded to a blip.

Hockey boasts an honorable tradition of great players who compete hard, yet exude class and dignity. Especially when the cameras are on, sportsmanship should be a priority.

I'm not advocating for the elimination of personality from the sport. On the contrary, I think the outward and inward diversity of NHLers should be emphasized more than ever in this era of media-ready cliches and bulky padding and helmets that make the players look more like robots than human beings.

At the same time, the principles that built the game shouldn't be tossed aside for the sake of shameless attention-seeking. Ovechkin does a lot of things right, but his appearing to have a lack of respect for his opponents has the potential to undermine his undeniable talents. And that wouldn't be good for Alex or the NHL.

Once again, Ovechkin is a tremendous competitor, the epitome of a modern hockey player. He is leading the Capitals to places the franchise has never been while boosting the Q-rating of a league that desperately needs it.

I'll leave it up to public opinion whether he has passed Crosby and teammate Evgeni Malkin for the title of the NHL's most outstanding player, but it is still quite certain that Alex Ovechkin still has much to learn about how to conduct himself.