Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Star Light, Star Bright...

It’s the eve of the voting period for the All-Star game, so it seems as good a time as any to take a look at our own all-star candidates, Alex Ovechkin and Olie Kolzig...

Together Olie and Ovie have led the way for the Caps to put together their best start to a season in years, providing pure skill as well as leadership on and off the ice despite the 15 year difference in their ages. Both players exemplify the typical Caps player we have come to expect – hard-working, modest, generous, and character-driven. But for All-Star voters, it is what is produced on the ice that counts (obviously, or else Jagr would never make the cut...) So here's a look at the numbers game:

Alex the Gr8
Alex Ovechkin’s entrance to the NHL was anything but slow and subtle. In his very first regular season game he scored 2 goals in front of a joyous home crowd and went on to pick up 52 goals and 54 assists over the season, a mark good enough for third all-time among NHL rookies. He was awarded the Calder Trophy during the offseason, receiving first place votes from 125 of 129 of the voters.

Many so-called “experts” around the league predicted that Ovie might experience a bit of a sophomore slump going into this season. Even some Caps fans questioned whether Ovie would be able to replicate his phenomenal numbers from last year when he finished the preseason with just one point, an assist. Maybe it was the summer spent off the ice. Maybe it was a lingering injury that hadn’t quite healed. Maybe it was too many steaks. Whatever "it" was, “it” was fixed by the home opener, as Alex scored 2 goals on the way to a 5-2 Caps win over the defending Stanley Cup Champs.

To this point Ovechkin has racked up 12 goals and 9 assists for 21 points through his first 17 games, and has scored 6 goals in his last 5 games alone. He brings so much to the ice every night, both in offensive production and in physical presence. Ovie has a tendency to just run defenders over who try and get in his way and has already broken two rinks in his young career. He’s not afraid to barrel to the net, and with up to 15-20 shots a night he always gives the team a chance to win.

Olie the Goalie
Olie Kolzig has become synonymous with the Washington Capitals and has evolved into the prototypical franchise player. He is a consistent fan favorite, inspiring chants of “O-LIE, O-LIE” whenever he makes a big save. To outsiders, his nomination to the all-star ballot may seem strange, but to those of us who watch him day in and day out it is well-deserved.

His numbers only tell half the tale – his GAA is just over 3.00, which seems relatively high by most standards and ranks him 17th overall. However, he has faced 421 shots, 5th most in the league. After facing that many shots, his save percentage is .919 – that’s 6th best in the league, which is impressive on its own with a young defensive corps in front of him. But consider the fact that the five goalies ahead of him (including our very own Johnny) have faced half as many shots and four of the five have played half as many games to get those percentages and it becomes even more amazing.

Olie’s path is rare for a player in any position; to stay with the same team for your entire career, through the ups and downs, is unheard of in this age of free agency and salary caps. And Olie just seems to get better with age. Although he played well last season, keeping the Caps in games they probably should have been out of, he has stepped it up to another level this season and has really become the backbone of a young and emerging Caps team. He is the acknowledged captain of this team and continues to put up big numbers for the Caps.

Unfortunately Olie will probably have the toughest time getting into the All-Star game. Regardless of performance, he is up against 7 other goaltenders whose names may be more recognizable to the average voter – Brodeur, Ward, and the underachieving Lundqvist to name a few.

It’s time to kick up that grassroots swell here inside the beltway...let’s send Zilla and Ovie to Dallas!

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