ARLINGTON, Va. -- Alex Ovechkin has wrapped up his third consecutive MVP, at least as far as his coach is concerned.
"He just is," Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said from the team's practice facility on Monday. "To me, it's self evident."
Regardless, there will be a vote as Professional Hockey Writers' Association members cast ballots on the Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP) and other awards after the regular season concludes April 11. Ovechkin leads the cast of candidates, which likely includes Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, Vancouver Canucks center Henrik Sedin and Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller.
Ovechkin, 24, enters play Monday tied for the league lead in goals (45 goals) and tops in points (97) and plus/minus (plus-42) -- all while missing 10 games.
"If you put in Alex in for those, we're not even talking about who the MVP is," Caps forward Brooks Laich said. "Now that he's missed those games, it just goes to show you how much he does in the games he is in there. I think he's still the runaway MVP."
Boosting his odds even further is the fact the Capitals (48-14-10) have the best overall record in the NHL by nine points.
But Ovechkin's candidacy does have a couple complications. He's been suspended twice for a total of four games, the second time after he boarded Brian Campbell on March 14 and left the Chicago Blackhawks defenseman with a broken collarbone and injured ribs.
Ovechkin said he doubts voters will look askance at him for those two infractions.
"It's only four games," said Ovechkin, who also has missed six games due to injury. "You have to see the whole season and how the team is doing."
The second is how the team did minus its superstar forward. The Capitals were nearly a goal better minus Ovechkin (4.7 goals per game) and they went 7-2-1, a points percentage that was also above the season average.
"There's not really an explanation for that," Boudreau said. "When your best player is out, you pick it up. You are not sitting there saying, 'Well, we don't have to do anything because Ovie will win it.' They know he's not there and they can pick it up for a short period of time. It's not like we had to go 20 games without him and you noticed a big hole."
"Should [Ovechkin's absences] hurt his voting?" Knuble said. "I don't know. I think he's still a high-end player and we'd like to have him in the lineup, regardless of the numbers."
Like his coach, Ovechkin also appeared to be at ease with the notion that he's weeks away from becoming the first player to win three consecutive MVP awards since Wayne Gretzky won eight in a row in the 1980s.
"Of course, it's going to be nice," Ovechkin said.