Things have changed.
Ovechkin has been one of the best players in the NHL since he burst into the league with 52 goals and 106 points in his rookie season back in 2005-06.
Despite missing the playoffs in his first two seasons, the Capitals have been largely successful since "Ovi" has been in the NHL, winning four straight Southeast Division championships from 2007-08 to 2010-11 and making the playoffs for the past five years.
But with Ovechkin's offensive struggles over the past two seasons, the Capitals started struggling with their team identity.
Coming into this season, Ovechkin's effectiveness had slipped over the past two years. Teams finally figured out how to stop the Russian superstar from busting into the zone and unleashing his patented wrist shot from the top of the circle.
This season, Ovechkin has seen his effectiveness return due to his ability (and willingness) to diversify his offensive game. Ovechkin has 26 points in his last 17 games, moving him into first place for the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy with 27 goals in 41 games played.
The 27-year-old Russian sniper has scored from many different places on the ice this season, making him as unstoppable as he was prior to the start of the 2010-11 season.
Ovechkin's recent success can be attributed to his ability to use his teammates to set him up instead of trying to muscle his way to the goal for every scoring opportunity.
The man who led the Capitals offensively over the past five years is back and better than ever.
Alex Ovechkin is officially ON FIRE. Ovie has scored 17 goals over his last 15 games and now leads the NHL with 26.4/10/2013, 12:55:50 AM
With Ovechkin's return to stardom comes the return of the Washington Capitals' playoff hopes. Ovechkin has an opportunity to take his team deeper into the playoffs than it has been since he's been in Washington.
As long as Ovechkin continues to light it up with Nicklas Backstrom, the Capitals should be considered not just a playoff dark horse but a favorite to advance at least to the conference semifinals for the fourth time in the last five seasons.
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