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Ovechkin makes statement with hat trick vs. Senators

Alex Ovechkin caught fire for three goals in the third period and the Capitals finished it in the shootout against the Senators.

It’s been a difficult few months for Alex Ovechkin. And we’re not even talking about the fact NHL player -- including The Great 8 -- won’t be going to the Olympics next year.

No, the difficult times date back to the 2016-17 regular season.

-- His goal production was down. He still scored 33 times, but this is a player who has consistently reached the 50-goal mark throughout his career.

-- The Capitals made the playoffs as the No. 1 regular season team and then suffered a crushing defeat to their rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in the seventh game of the second round. Another disappointment set forward an interesting offseason in Washington as a number of changes were made to the roster.

-- Ovechkin, himself, was even mentioned as part of trade speculation.

-- General manager Brian MacLellan wanted Ovechkin, who just turned 32 years old last month, to change his offseason training.

-- The Capitals were told by coach Barry Trotz toward the end of the preaseason to “quit with the self pity” after last season’s playoff defeat.

Plenty has happened for the Capitals and Ovechkin in the last year or so.

If there was any worry or doubt about how Ovechkin would respond at the beginning of this season, well, he made a statement about that on Thursday in the Capitals’ season opener versus the Ottawa Senators. He took over the game in the third period, scoring the hat trick -- needing not even seven minutes of game time to do so -- and helping his team to a come-from-behind 5-4 victory in the shootout. Oh, he also scored in the deciding breakaway competition.

He joins Connor McDavid, Wayne Simmonds and Brandon Saad to open this season with three goals in a game.

That’s also the 18th hat trick of Ovechkin’s career. Until he wins a Stanley Cup (or an Olympic gold medal for that matter), there will always be doubters and naysayers. Of course, many factors in this team sport go into winning a championship and only time will tell if everything falls the Capitals’ way this spring or the next.

Ovechkin obviously won’t sustain this scoring pace. And he’s another year older, now well into his 30s. But would anybody be surprised to see one of the most prolific scorers for more than a decade rebound in spectacular fashion?