In sports, as in politics, image is everything.
And until someone hoists the Stanley Cup, there will be no more potent image for the 2005-06 season than the one provided by Alexander Ovechkin on January 16. It's not an incidental point since hockey writers across the United States and Canada will award the Calder Trophy for the league's best rookie based largely on what they saw on television.
You remember the play, driving across the high slot, the Russian was knocked down by Phoenix Coyotes defenceman Paul Mara. On the ice, facing away from the play and with one hand on his stick, Ovechkin still managed to steer the puck past sprawling Phoenix goalie Brian Boucher.
"That was the best goal I ever scored," gushed Ovechkin. It was the best goal most anyone has scored.
The goal will help distance Ovechkin from the Calder field that includes the Penguins' Sidney Crosby, Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist and Calgary defenceman Dion Phaneuf.
"When I saw that goal, the first thing I said was, 'you won't see a goal like that ever again,' " Crosby said. "It's one thing to have second effort but on top of that, the athleticism he showed. It's just an example of the talent that he has."
Ovechkin has racked up the stats as well. He is third overall in NHL scoring, trailing only Jaromir Jagr and Joe Thornton, with 49 goals and 51 points going into play tonight. He leads all rookies in goals, points, and short-handed goals. He scored five goals for Russia in the Olympics and was the only member of a team that finished out of medals to make the all-tournament team.