After Russia crashed out of the 2014 Olympics on the back of Washington Capitals star forward and captain Alexander Ovechkin, many openly wondered if the disappointing showing would affect the star for the remainder of the current NHL season. This is in large part because after the 2010 Olympics, the Russian seemed to come back stateside and mope, scoring a mere four games in the first 15 games after the break ended and bringing to light an apparent hangover from the events. A showing of this sort would be a huge drag on the Capitals this year, as they continue to fight for a playoff spot.
Well if Game 1 of the Capitals post-break schedule in 2014 is anything to go off of, it is clear that Ovechkin has rid himself of any hangover associated with the disappointing Olympic exit. In a 5-4 win over the Florida Panthers he picked up two assists in the first two periods, before capping off the game with a game winning goal with only 4:17 seconds left in the third period. Aside from the stat sheet looking good, the star forward genuinely looked to be a threat through his actual play from start to finish.
For the entirety of the game, Ovechkin was a menace whenever the puck was near, as he seemed to be engaged in the game from start to finish, avoiding lulls of inaction defensively that have become far too familiar to Capitals onlookers. Nobody will ever misinterpret the winger for being a defensive stalwart, but he stayed in great position defensively throughout the game, and didn’t make any mistakes that would come back to bite Washington.
The biggest piece of Ovechkin being a force in the game is always going to be offensive output, and he seemed to have the same jump in his step and need to be all over the offensive zone that was present throughout the opening 59 games of the regular season. Capping off the night by firing a one-timer from Brooks Laich into the back of the net for his NHL-leading 41st goal of the season was both justified, and was surely a morale booster that all goal scorers thrive on to get going in a good groove. That Ovechkin was a force on the stat sheet in the first game back after a thoroughly disappointing Olympic break should serve as a fresh start of sorts, and help to forget about Sochi.
The biggest benefit of the output from Ovechkin on the night was that the Capitals won the game and remain a mere point away from the Philadelphia Flyers for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. And while the Capitals can continue to go after a goaltender, shutdown defender or gritty forward as the NHL Trade Deadline nears, the success of their season ultimately rests on number eight’s shoulders. If Game 1 of the post-Olympic break told the public anything, it is that this future looks successful.