Capital gains?

The Baltimore Sun

Monday night, Ovechkin recorded a hat trick to break out of a scoring slump in which he had one goal in the previous eight games. The offensive outburst raised the left wing's goal total for 2007-08 to 52, making him the first player to reach 50 in the NHL this season. (It is the second time he has achieved that milestone in his three-season NHL career). And with 15 games remaining, he has a chance to be the first to reach 60 in more than a decade. The last two players with that many goals in a season were Lemieux, with 69, and Jaromir Jagr, with 62, in 1995-96 for the Penguins.

Ovechkin's offensive efforts have also helped make the Capitals a contender for a playoff spot. Monday night's 10-2 rout of the Boston Bruins has Washington within striking distance of a postseason position, a rare opportunity for the Caps of late.

What Ovechkin has accomplished in Washington could be compared to what LeBron James has done for the NBA's Cavaliers in Cleveland -- raising a downtrodden franchise to contender status. Ovechkin, a team guy, would protest that it's not the case, but imagine where the Caps would be without him.

However, there is a stark contrast between these two personages of sports royalty -- "King James" and "Alexander the Great."

James has electrified Cleveland. Even though the town is nuts for the NFL and the Indians went to the playoffs last season, James is the city's athlete with the highest profile. Cleveland's NBA team averages more than 20,000 fans per game -- third highest in the league -- with the accompanying benefit to the area surrounding the downtown "Q" (Quicken Loans Arena).

Meanwhile in Washington, despite Ovechkin's scintillating play, the Capitals are not an easy sell. Although the official attendance figures are the best since the strike in 2004-05 (14,918), the Caps are still 25th out of 30 teams. The problem, of course, goes beyond the Capitals. The NHL's national profile is dubious, hence its television contract on Versus as opposed to a bigger network.

Of course, none of this should detract from Ovechkin's efforts. He remains the perfect sports star: hardworking, team-oriented and extremely likable, yet he comes up with spectacular individual efforts that are the very essence of memorable and thrilling spectator sports.

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

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