WASHINGTON — The stage is set once again for Alexander Ovechkin to have another milestone moment on home ice against the Winnipeg Jets. But the man who grew up idolizing the Russian superstar hopes he and his teammates can steal the show — not to mention two points — from the defending Stanley Cup champions tonight.
Ovechkin needs one more point to attain 1,200 for his incredible career. He’ll be looking for it as his team hosts the Jets at Capital One Arena (6 p.m. CT). It was almost one year ago to the very day that Ovechkin had a huge night against Winnipeg, scoring his 600th career goal in front of a raucous hometown crowd.
"It’s awesome to see that one of my biggest idols is doing that well and, hopefully, he’s not going to do that well (tonight). It’s been fun to watch, and obviously 46 goals already, that’s pretty incredible. I think he’s probably going to get another 50-goal season again," Patrick Laine said following his team’s practice on Saturday.
Winnipeg is 2-1-0 on this four-game eastern road trip and will try to finish it up on a winning note before heading home for three straight games this week against tough teams — San Jose, Boston and Calgary.
Laine, who has 29 goals and 16 assists this season, has seemingly found a home lately on the top line with Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele. He’s played a much more noticeable, well-rounded game and has made no shortage of superb passes to the red-hot Wheeler, who has seven goals and eight assists in his past eight games.
"I feel good. Obviously, getting more ice time, so it helps. All the time you’re kind of in the rhythm, so it’s easier to play, and playing with those two, it’s pretty easy. I just try to read what they’re doing and just try to bring something I can do to the table and hopefully make those two even better," said Laine, who has four goals and five assists in his last eight games.
"Just work hard. I think that’s kind of the key. There’s always going to be times when you’re not scoring, but still, that’s not the full game. There’s obviously those small things that we need to do well as a team that everybody in this locker room appreciates."
Laine laughed at the thought he’s become the set-up man and Wheeler the finisher, when it’s typically been the other way around.
"Yeah, he’s been hot lately, and that’s awesome. He wasn’t scoring too many goals earlier this season, so it’s awesome to see him getting rewarded on that section as well. And it’s fun to get a couple assists every now and then," Laine said.
There will always be comparisons between the 33-year-old Ovechkin and the 20-year-old Laine because of their lethal shots. But Jets head coach Paul Maurice said he’s starting to see some of the good habits emerge in Laine’s game that it took Ovechkin a few seasons to figure out.
"Since he’s been moved with Mark and Blake, he’s got a whole other piece to his game that we were really (hoping for). I believe Patty is going to be a power forward. It’s different than Alex, obviously, there’s a speed difference. But Patty’s 6-5, 220 pounds and he’s 20 years old. He’s going to become a very powerful man down low," Maurice said Saturday.
"What happens is you get these guys come in with this extreme talent, and you kind of expect it to bleed into all parts of the game, they should be able to do everything well. Well, nobody does at 18, 19 and 20. It takes time for them to build their game. We’re really, really happy where Patty is in the back half of the season. He went through a stretch where he wasn’t scoring, but the points aren’t what’s important now. He’s fitting in on a line and, like Alex Ovechkin, you get one of two sets of people out against you. Either the best scorers that team has, and they go head-to-head, or the best checkers. Your lot in life is not easy when you’re putting up those kind of numbers against the other team’s best."
Maurice said any player should look to emulate Ovechkin in terms of his consistency. He’s never scored less than 33 goals in a full season, and is on track for the eighth 50-goal season in his career.
"You still have to marvel at that extreme skill and the points that he’s put up and the run of goals he’s been on. So you got a legend, right? You get to still watch him be in his prime, but with the seasoning and maturity of playing the team game now. He’s a great leader in that respect," Maurice said.
"So the question is, how can you not come up with an answer for it? You’ve seen that shot, it’s not like he’s hiding it. And we’re trying to put our two to three guys in the shooting lane and the goaltender, and it just doesn’t seem to be working. He’s clearly special. There’s Hall of Fame players, and then there’s also special players. And he’s one of them."
Laine admitted there’s plenty he can learn from studying Ovechkin, but his biggest priority right now is trying to get another big win for a Jets team that leads the Central Division with a 40-23-4 record, one point up on Nashville with two games in hand. They’ll face a Washington club that was won six straight games.
"Just try to play the same way. It’s going to be a similar game (to Carolina), but just against a better team. Obviously, they have a lot of skill up front and just an overall solid team. And they’re rolling now. They’re really hot, so it’s going to be a tough game. But we’ve got to play well and we’ve got to play our game for 60 and hopefully finish the road trip with a win," Laine said.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
Updated on Saturday, March 9, 2019 at 10:18 PM CST: Edited