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Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals warms up prior to the game against the Florida Panthers on January 13, 2010 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) (Joel Auerbach/2010 Getty Images)
Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals warms up prior to the game against the Florida Panthers on January 13, 2010 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) (Joel Auerbach/2010 Getty Images)

Jeff Blair

5 points all in night's work for Ovechkin Add to ...

How can you not love the guy? Four points through two periods in a gimme against the Toronto Maple Leafs and there was Alexander Ovechkin being asked by all-sports cable channel TSN what he had in store for the third period.

"You'll see," he said with all the assurance of a guy who has - yikes! - 32 points in 19 career games against the Leafs.

And so we waited.

Why not? He is the best singular show on ice - hands down, no question, you can keep your Sid the Kid, thanks - and it's not just the talent, it's the joy with which he plays. It's the add-ons, the expressiveness on his face, the hurricane-like intensity of his line changes, for pete's sake.

There are times when pro sports really does seem like a game: Manny at the plate, Kobe with the ball, Favre looking downfield … and Ovie with the puck. Honestly, it's almost enough to make you want to cheer for the Russians in Vancouver next month just to see what he'd do. (C'mon, not even just a wee, little bit?)

In the end, Ovechkin "settled" for adding another assist when Tomas Fleischman tipped in his shot for the Capitals' fifth goal in a 6-1 win. Ovechkin has not had a six-point game in his career, and with no remaining games against the Leafs, he might have to wait until next season.

"He's the best player in the world, so he's going to have nights like this," said Ovechkin's linemate, Mike Knuble, who scored two goals. "In fact, he's going to have nights like this every night, more often than not."

You get the picture.

The Leafs - typically - outshot yet another opponent, to no avail. Down 1-0 after Nicklas Backstrom weaved his way through Ian White and Tomas Kaberle and fed Ovechkin for a goal, Toronto had had what amounted to a four-minute power play in the first, on a delay-of-game penalty assessed to Tom Poti at 4 minutes 29 seconds, and Backstrom's boarding minor at 6:36.

It was a chance to use the man-power advantage to offset the talent cap between the teams. Yet, Lee Stempniak's uncertain work at the point did the Leafs in.

When Toronto did finally score, it was on a shot from Kaberle at the 18:37 mark of the second, with the line of Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak and Nikolai Kulemin doing the work. Kessel made a smart pass to Kaberle after the Capitals closed him down, and Kulemin parked himself in front of Jose Theodore, screening the Capitals goaltender.

The Leafs' talent gap is considerable even when they play mediocre teams, so it's pointless to draw any conclusion about them from last night's game. If you want something to worry about, though, it's that general manager Brian Burke's reworked defence once again was helpless.

Somebody told Leafs head coach Ron Wilson after the game that there were nights when his team looked young. Rubbish, he said. "The guys who were making mistakes out there weren't rookies or second-year guys, they were NHL veterans," Wilson said. "Shame on them for not being ready."

The coach used every combination possible against Ovechkin (at one point, assistant coach Rob Zettler may have been seen on the ice) and none made a difference.

Mike Komisarek is injured, but, well, do you think that would have made a difference last night? For all the effort and money that went into this defence, on most nights, it still seems like a collection of third- and fourth-liners.

White was minus-three through two periods. François Beauchemin, who was added to bring moxy and all that stuff, tried to jump up into the play in the second and Knuble's first goal made him pay for it. Tom Poti and Eric Fehr also took advantage of the Leafs retreating defence and, in the end, it was left to the Toronto thugs to do their thing, with Colton Orr bushwhacking Mike Green.

But then, isn't that the Leafs?

Getting embarrassed? Bring out come the lumberjacks. Masters of the useless display of force. Not ready for prime time against even an average team, let alone one like the Capitals, whose fans joyously counted '1-2-3-4-5-6" as the game wound down.

Afterward, a Russian reporter wanted Ovechkin to pose for a cellphone snapshot. Without missing a beat, Ovechkin smiled and held up all five fingers on his left hand. Then, he did the same with the right.

 

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