NEW YORK - Being a finalist for the Hart Trophy is nothing new to Alex Ovechkin and on Thursday he spoke briefly about what it means to be named one of three finalists for the fifth time in his nine-year career.
“It means a lot,” Ovechkin said after Thursday’s morning skate prior to tonight’s second-round series opener against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
“It means I play great, my team play great, so it’s a huge accomplishment.”
Ovechkin led all players with 53 goals in the regular season, winning his fifth Rocket Richard trophy as the NHL’s leading goal scorer. He also set a career high with 25 goals on the power play and became just the sixth player in NHL history to record six 50-goal seasons.
But if you ask Capitals coach Barry Trotz, it has been the defensive commitment of his 29-year-old captain that has impressed him most. Ovechkin went from scoring 51 goals and being a minus-35 last season to scoring 53 goals with a plus-10 rating this season.
“His commitment on the other side of the puck and his consistency on that is vastly improved and that only happens when your leaders buy into that and he has,” Trotz said. “I think he’s a more complete player than he was the year before.
“But he’s a terrific talent, a big body. He’s one of those rare talents who scores a lot of goals in this league while being shadowed and facing top D pairings.
“The rare thing he has is he’s a great goal scorer, but physically he’s a very intimidating guy. You think back to the days of Mark Messier, a high-end goal scorer who had a physical aspect to his game. Those are far and few between and we’re seeing a pretty rare talent in Ovi.”
While Ovechkin will compete against Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price and Islanders center John Tavares for his fourth Hart Trophy, his linemate, Nicklas Backstrom was shut out again in voting for the Selke trophy as the NHL’s top two-way forward.
That distinction goes to Patrice Bergeron of the Bruins, Anze Kopitar of the Kings and Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks, who were named finalists for the Selke earlier in the week.
“I’ve been beating the drum of him being one of the best two-way players in the National Hockey League all year,” Trotz said. “I didn’t get to see him a whole lot in the Western Conference, but when you work with him on a daily basis you realize how good of a player he is. He’s a superstar that really gets no attention.
Asked if the writers got it wrong with their three Selke finalists, Trotz was respectful of Bergeron, Kopitar and Toews.
“I’m not going to say that,” he said. “I’m biased. I think he should get a lot more credibility. The guys they picked are tremendous players, His name just never comes up and I think it should.”
For his part, Backstrom paid little attention to the voting.
“Players are so good these day you’ve got to be able to play both ways,” he said.