Bob Hoch attempts to focus on Ovechkin with the Canon 200 he's taken out of his jacket pocket. Hoch has been a Rangers season ticket-holder for five years, but he's an unabashed Ovechkin true believer. "I love Ovechkin and hate Sidney Crosby," Hoch says, as if there has to be a choice. "They're both incredible hockey players, but Crosby takes dives and avoids contact at all times and Ovie is old school. He's the guy you'd kill to have on your team."
While Hoch does what he can with his point-and-shoot, longtime NHL photographer Bruce Bennett has the luxury of a Canon EOS Mark III with a 300 millimeter f/2.8 lens. There are plenty of Ovechkin shifts in which even state-of-the-art technology doesn't cut it.
Bennett, the director of hockey imagery for Getty Images, reviews his work and a few options provided by his associates.
"I'm looking at a lot of frames -- from warmups! -- and in every single one Ovechkin is out of focus. He's so fast, it's ridiculous, but the real challenge is that he's a waterbug. He can't stand still. I think even he doesn't know where he's going all the time. NHL defensemen can't keep up with him and neither can I."
That said, the photographers adore this on-ice artist.
"He's still the favorite of most of us," said Bennett, who has been shooting the NHL for 34 years. "The key to great images is the action, of course, but just as much it's the faces. Ovechkin wears his heart on his sleeve and he has such an expressive face. If you keep up with him, he makes it worthwhile."
Barry Meisel was raised in Brooklyn a Rangers fan and went on to cover the team for the Daily News from 1985 until 1997, including the Stanley Cup year of '93-94. Still True Blue today, he's at the Garden on this Tuesday night as a businessman -- and Alexander Ovechkin is very good for business.
"He's our most requested jersey," said Meisel, who gets to move about 10 Ovechkin game-worns a year. "We hear more from true hockey fans about Alex than anyone else in the league. He's effervescent, he's exciting, he plays like he loves the game. Fans respond to him. Of all the current players, I think Ovechkin is the game's greatest ambassador."
That's why global sports, media and entertainment giant IMG last month signed Ovechkin for exclusive marketing and management. He's why the Capitals' fundraising efforts for charities boom with a signed Ovechkin stick, if not an appearance by the star himself. Washington PR director Nate Ewell said Ovechkin autographed an estimated 5,000 items last season for charity.
Ovechkin is why Stephan and his girlfriend Katherine made the journey from Calgary to New York and watched from center ice in their Capitals No. 8 jerseys. "He's just the greatest player and the most exciting to watch," said Katherine.
Ovechkin is the reason why youth hockey leagues have sprung up all over the Beltway. He's the reason the Capitals' beat, fading just five years ago, is now a high priority for the Washington Post. "Ever since Alex won the Calder Trophy, the demand for coverage has been constant," said Post reporter Tarik El-Bashir, who has been on the beat since the lockout. "But that's the effect Alex has had on the media everywhere. Whenever the Caps play on the road, there's a lot more press than there used to be."
A dozen reporters dragged themselves out of bed to cover the Capitals' morning skate on Tuesday, nine hours before the opening faceoff between Washington and the Rangers. After the game, even two New York newspaper columnists found their way to the visitors' locker room. Then there was the crew from VERSUS, the NHL's cable network partner which could not contain its joy when Ovechkin made his return on their air Tuesday night.
"On any given shift, he can make the play of the year," said VERSUS coordinating producer Mike Baker. "I've been working hockey on TV since 1980 and I've never seen a player exude such joy. For our purposes, Alex has been a gem. He's never said no, and we've made many requests of him. He understands the importance of bringing in viewers and bringing them closer to the game. And his reactions after goals are priceless."
Sure enough, when Ovechkin scored on a slap shot just 15 minutes into his first game in 15 days, he didn't act like he'd been there before. He shouted. He raised a fist to the air. He bear-hugged his teammates.
As much as the game missed him, Ovechkin missed scoring goals. Most of all, he missed the celebrations.
"That was unbelievable," he said. "That felt good."