Alex Ovechkin has enjoyed one of the most remarkable turnarounds in recent memory.
Ovechkin is finishing the regular season in incredible style. He is scoring goals nearly every time he steps onto the ice, and his Washington Capitals have gone from being the Eastern Conference doormats at the beginning of the season to the team nobody wants to play in the postseason.
Ovechkin has become one of the leading candidates for the Hart Trophy and is back in consideration as perhaps the most recognizable face in the league.
Should the Capitals meet the Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh Penguins at any point in the Eastern Conference Final, it will be another epic confrontation between Sidney Crosby and Ovechkin (assuming Crosby is playing again following his broken jaw).
Ovechkin may be more charismatic and indispensable than Crosby. The Penguins' superstar is probably the best player in the NHL, but his team has barely missed a step without him. He played in the Penguins' first 36 games, but he has not played since.
Ovechkin was in the lineup early in the season, but he was a lost soul. He scored two goals in his first 10 games, appeared somewhat disinterested and was getting criticized on national television by former players for his lack of production.
It looked like Ovechkin was nothing like the player he had been in the past. But when he appeared to be destined to join the ranks of the mediocre, Ovechkin stepped on the gas and started flying again.
He started playing with more speed and bravura. Instead of skating at a leisurely pace, he was flying up and down the ice again. His devastating wrist shot had a few extra miles per hour on it.
Ovechkin started scoring again and the Capitals started winning again.
The Caps have sprinted from last in the Eastern Conference to first place in the Southeast Division and the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Ovechkin passed Tampa Bay wunderkind Steven Stamkos for the league lead in goals and has 31 for the season.
As good as those numbers are overall, he has been especially hot lately. He has scored 23 goals and 11 assists in his last 21 games.
Capitals fans are shouting "M-V-P" at home games ,and Ovechkin has become a dynamic presence once again.
Ovechkin seems genuinely happy with the way the season has turned around for both himself and his team.
“It means like people who have been all over me, they just hear it and they just can close their mouths and all that kind of stuff," Ovechkin told the Washington Post. "If I’m gonna have a couple bad games, everyone is gonna be all over me again. I just tell myself, ‘It doesn’t matter what’s gonna happen.’ Don’t listen to the fans, you guys [reporters]. I just have to listen to my teammates and my coach and my family.
I’ve just grown up as a person. That’s the most important thing. When you grow up, you understand a little bit more and it gives you a little step forward the whole time.”
Ovechkin does not seem bothered by the criticism. He may have been playing poorly at the start of the year, and neither the 2010-11 or 2011-12 seasons were up to his standards, but he did not lose confidence in himself.
Or if he did, he has regained it.
Now that he's back producing at a league-leading level, he seems genuinely excited.
That excitement and the energy that comes with it make him one of the most indispensable players in the league.