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

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USA TODAY Sports

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.

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The Flyers' new mascot, Gritty, is here to haunt your dreams

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Twitter

The Flyers' new mascot, Gritty, is here to haunt your dreams

On Monday morning, just a week shy of the official start to the 2018-19 NHL season, the Philadelphia Flyers triumphantly announced their new mascot and, full disclosure, it’s terrifying.

Meet Gritty.

The furry orange abomination is a cross between fabled Canadiens' (and Expos) mascot Youppi, The Muppet Show’s Animal, and something that would probably murder you in your sleep.

He’s named Gritty, because, according to the Flyers’ official webpage, is supposed to reflect the strength, tenacity, and raw passion of the team and their fanbase.

His portly figure and bouncy, gyrating hips are not the problem. In fact, watching him move is kind of delightful.

No, the real problem here is his eyes. Those oddly realistic googly eyes,  following his every movement and hip circle ike a car accident you just can’t look away from. His mouth, always agape, is the icing on the nightmare fuel cake..

Hockey fans online went into a tizzy after the reveal. Monday's primary activity was to lay into the Flyers' new mascot with heavy heat.

Despite their divisional rivalry, the Caps’ own loveable eagle Slapshot welcomed Gritty to the family in a very diplomatic manner. 

Other teams in the Metropolitan division, namely the Pittsburgh Penguins however, were not so kind.

According to his official bio, “recent construction at the Wells Fargo Center disturbed [Gritty’s] secret hideout forcing him to show his face publicly for the first time.” We think this is supposed to be charming and mysterious in the same way that everyone describes Bigfoot, but it mostly works at convincing us to head for the hills. 

You can also book him for event appearances. We’d recommend him as a supportive presence at divorce hearings, or as the featured guest at your horrible cousin’s wedding.

It’s worth noting that other Metropolitan teams are not without mascot sins. In 2011, the Columbus Blue Jackets had a NSFW cannon named Boomer, who barely survived half a season before being retired. 

Thankfully, Caps fans only have to handle Slapshot's themed costumes for special events this season.

Philly, we’re happy for you, but you can keep Gritty within city limits.

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It's not crazy to think Alex Ovechkin could lead the NHL in goals again

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NBC Sports Washington

It's not crazy to think Alex Ovechkin could lead the NHL in goals again

You may think the odds are against Alex Ovechkin winning yet another Rocket Richard Trophy for leading the league in goals. Ovechkin turned 33 on Sept. 17 and since the trophy was first introduced in the 1998-99 season, only one player over the age of 30 has ever won it.

That player was Ovechkin. He’s done it twice.

Let’s take a minute to appreciate just how dominant a scorer Alex Ovechkin has been through his career. Only three times has a player reached the 50-goal plateau in the past five seasons. Those players are Ovechkin (50 goals in 2015-16), Ovechkin (53 goals in 2014-15) and Ovechkin (51 goals in 2013-14).

Normally, it would be crazy to think a player over 30 could lead the league in goals. It would be crazy to think a player over 30 could score 50.

Ovechkin -- who has led the league in goals in five of the past six seasons -- is anything but normal.

After winning his seventh Rocket Richard Trophy last season and showing no signs of fatigue or decline in a dominant Stanley Cup championship run that won him a Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP, it’s not crazy to think he can do it again at age 33.

Maybe his 50 goal days are behind him. But even if he doesn’t hit that mark, he should still be in contention considering no one else in the league has scored 50 goals since the 2010-11 season when Corey Perry netted 50. Forty-nine goals was all it took last season for Ovechkin to lead the league.

With a balanced line of Evgeny Kuznetsov in the middle and Tom Wilson on the wing and a still dominant power play that will continue to be coached by Todd Reirden and Blaine Forsythe, Ovechkin will be able to light the lamp and will absolutely be in contention to lead the league in goals yet again.

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