Alex the Grate comes calling

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:50 AM ET

With a pair each of 50 and 40 goal seasons in his productive playing career, Joe Nieuwendyk certainly classifies as an expert on NHL scoring.

So when it comes to what makes Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin tick, the Maple Leafs special assistant to the general manager has a view that carries weight.

And with Ovechkin, who recently hit the 50 mark for the third time in his four-year career, Nieuwendyk believes it's equal parts talent and attitude.

"I've always thought there are some players who try and go through an NHL game and not make a mistake and there are other guys who want to go through a game and score one every night," Nieuwendyk said yesterday while watching the Leafs' mid-day practice at Lakeshore Lions Arena.

"This guy wants to score on every shift."

Ovechkin figures to inject a little spice to the wind-down of the Leafs season tonight when his act touches down at the Air Canada Centre.

He certainly added to his headlines lately with his exuberant post-goal celebrations, but in these mostly goal-deprived days in the NHL, perhaps the flashy Russian is entitled to some latitude.

When he scored 65 times in 2007-08, the 23-year-old became the first player in a dozen seasons to top 60. Mario Lemieux (69) and Jaromir Jagr (62) were the previous back when Ovechkin was a pre-teen.

With campaigns of 52, 46, 65 and 50 (and counting) in his young NHL career, Ovechkin has established himself as the sharp-shooting class of his generation.

"Definitely," Leafs goalie Martin Gerber said when asked if Ovechkin has separated himself from other snipers of the generally lower-scoring era.

"The guy goes over 50 consistently ... he is in a different league of scorers."

But what makes him so?

Nieuwendyk said Ovechkin blends size, speed and strength with his natural goal-scoring touch.

It also doesn't hurt that he is the runaway leader in shots on goal this season with 468, 125 more than his closest pursuer in that category, Carolina's Eric Staal.

"His ability to shoot in stride catches your eye," Nieuwendyk said. "Everybody knows he's strong and he's fast. But his ability to get that puck off with great speed is something not everybody is ready for."

Even opposing players occasionally find themselves in awe of Ovechkin's talent and penchant for the highlight reel goal.

"You watch him as a player, you are amazed," said Jason Blake, who is the current Leafs leader with 25 goals. "Some of the goals he scores, some of the stuff he does, it is unbelievable."

For a goaltender though, watching Ovechkin's every move is more out of necessity than admiration.

"(He does) pretty much everything," said Gerber.

"He has a great shot and can release it any time from anywhere. He shoots and finds the holes through bodies.

"Obviously you really have to be aware and pay attention to him. He can decide the game by himself."


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