Alex Ovechkin

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Ovechkin shatters unfair selfish perception with 500th career assist

Ovechkin shatters unfair selfish perception with 500th career assist

Alex Ovechkin has reached another milestone in his storied career and it's not one many would associate with the Great 8. With his secondary assist on Nicklas Backstrom's first period goal in Florida on Thursday, Ovechkin tallied assist No. 500 for his career. That makes him just the second player in franchise history to hit that mark behind Nicklas Backstrom.

Ovechkin handled the puck and the blue line and sent a bullet to Evgeny Kuznetsov in the right corner. Kuznetsov then found Backstrom sneaking up on the back door for the goal.

RELATED: A CHALLENGE FOR KUZNETSOV

Once again, Ovechkin's exploits have put him in elite company. In addition to being only the second player in team history to reach 500 assists, Ovechkin is also one of only 15 active players to have reached 500. In addition, he is one of only four active players to score at least 500 career goals and 500 assists joining Jaromir Jagr, Marian Hossa and Patrick Marleau.

It's a milestone that should forever end the "selfish" commentary that inexplicably follows Ovechkin. But it won't.

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What has been the biggest surprise for the Caps in the first half of the season?

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What has been the biggest surprise for the Caps in the first half of the season?

The bye week is a good opportunity to evaluate what happened over the course of the first half of the season and look forward to the rest of the season. Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan answer the biggest questions surrounding the team at the bye.

Today's topic: What has been the biggest surprise for the Caps in the first half of the season?

El-Bashir: While seeing the Caps sit atop the deep and difficult Metro Division is a bit unexpected, my biggest surprise at the bye is Alex Ovechkin’s return to world-class form. For the record, I wasn’t among those—and there were plenty—who were ready to write off No. 8, saying he was poised for a precipitous plunge in production following a disappointing 33 goal performance a year ago. I thought he’d bounce back…a bit, anyway. After all, we had seen him do it a couple of times before. Instead, what we appear to witnessing is a rebirth of sorts. Ovechkin, at 32, leads the NHL with 28 goals and is on pace to hit 50 for the eighth time in his career. (Last season, the top-10 goal getters were all under 30 and Sidney Crosby’s 44 led everyone.) Ovechkin is also on pace for his highest point total—89—since he posted 109 way back in 2009-10. The three-time MVP is also leading the league in shots.

RELATED: WHERE DO THE CAPS SIT IN THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS?

Sure, Ovechkin is playing 1:20 more per game than he did last year. But it’s not all about an extra couple of shifts. Ovechkin put in the work this offseason, and it’s showing. He’s got a gear, a burst we haven’t seen in a couple of years and, as a result, he’s getting to pucks—and creating opportunities—he couldn’t a season ago.

For Ovechkin’s legion of fans, the second half of the regular season figures to be even more fun that the first because of the milestones that are within his reach. At some point, assuming he stays healthy, Ovechkin will hit 500 assists (he’s two away), 600 goals (he’s 14 back) and 1,000 games (he needs 34 more).

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again Caps fans: savor every moment because Ovi’s on top of his game again.

MORE CAPITALS: BRIAN MACLELLAN ISN'T PLAYING COY, HE WANTS TO RE-SIGN JOHN CARLSON

Regan: My biggest surprise is the Caps’ 28-14-3 record. Given the number of players the team lost in the offseason, it was clear they were not the same team that won the Presidents’ Trophy the past two years. But how much of a step back would they take? No one was really sure what to expect. With a six-point lead over the Metropolitan Division 45 games into the season, Washington is surpassing even the most optimistic of expectations.

Not only are the Caps exceeding expectations, they are doing it in the face of obstacles that should be holding them back.

The Caps have not had the same remarkable luck with injuries as they have the past few years. T.J. Oshie, Brett Connolly, Andre Burakovsky and Matt Niskanen have all missed time due to injuries this season. Those are significant losses, especially Niskanen given the team’s thin depth on the blue line. But Alex Ovechkin’s defiance of Father Time, the emergence of Jakub Vrana and key contributions from role players like Tom Wilson and Devante Smith-Pelly have bolstered the team’s offense. Defensively, John Carlson’s career season helped mitigate the loss of Niskanen.

When you consider the players the Caps lost, the injuries the team has dealt with, that they rank dead last in shots per game, that they have two rookies playing on the blue line and their best player is 32 years old, the fact the team not only sits in first place of the tough Metropolitan Division but by a sizable six-point margin is absolutely remarkable.

RELATED: CAPS' IMPROBABLE WIN

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NHL Awards watch: Alex Ovechkin is making a case for the Hart

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NHL Awards watch: Alex Ovechkin is making a case for the Hart

With 33 goals last season, the obituaries were being written for the career of Alex Ovechkin. Scoring 33 goals is no small feat, but for the greatest goal scorer of his generation, the 2016-17 season looked like the beginning of the inevitable decline for the Russian superstar.

Fast-forward to January 2018. The now 32-year-old Ovechkin leads the Caps in points with 43, is tied for the league lead in goals with 26 and is on pace for 52 goals for the season.

The fact that Ovechkin is in the running for the Rocket Richard Trophy at the midpoint of the season at his age is absolutely incredible, but there's another piece of hardware he could find himself competing for by season's end: The Hart Trophy as the league MVP.

SEE THIS WEEK'S NHL AWARDS WATCH HERE

Ovechkin has won the Hart three times in his career. In all three times, he also won the Rocket Richard Trophy.

More importantly, however, is team success versus the expectations. The Capitals have won the Presidents' Trophy three times in franchise history and in none of those three years did Ovechkin win the MVP. Washington was going to be a great team in those seasons and everyone knew it.

Few knew what to expect from the 2017-18 Capitals heading into the season, but one thing was clear. With all the roster turnover in the summer, this year's team is not nearly as deep or as loaded as the team that won the Presidents' Trophy in each of the last two years. Yet, at the midway point of the season, Washington sits atop the absurdly competitive Metropolitan Division and Ovechkin is leading the way.

Ovechkin's previous Hart Trophies did not come in years in which he played on the best team, they came in years in which he led the team to heights no one expected. Should Washington win the Metropolitan Division this year given what they lost in the offseason and with four rookies in the lineup, this year would certainly qualify.

How does Ovechkin currently stack up in the Hart race? You can see the updated awards watch for all the major NHL Awards here.