After a long summer of bad headlines in Phoenix, a quest for 50 goals in 50 games from a certain Washington Capitals forward sounds like the perfect tonic.
That would be Brooks Laich, who kept pace with Rocket Richard Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin out of the gate on Thursday by matching his two-goal start in a 4-1 win over Boston.
"I told Ovie: 'I'm coming for you,' " Laich joked during a phone interview yesterday as the Caps prepare to host the Maple Leafs tonight. "The funny part was, at our fan convention the other day we had a segment called, "Kids Ask The Darndest Things." I was asked how many goals I'll get and I said: 'One more than Ovie'. "
But kidding aside, Laich, who scored 23 goals last season, thinks Ovechkin's much-publicized pledge to take the Caps beyond the conference semifinals will drive him to greater heights this season. With 65 goals two years ago and 56 last season, Ovechkin could go for 50 in 50 games, done just eight times by five different players -- the last was Brett Hull in 1991-92.
"If anyone can do it, Ovie can," Laich said. "He puts six or seven shots on goal a game and you know one will go in.
"He's said the Hart Trophy is nice but he wants to win something bigger. He's really driven and you can see the way he has come out already."
But other factors will determine if the Caps can fight past clubs such as Pittsburgh, Boston and New Jersey for the Eastern crown.
Scoring support for Ovechkin and linemates Alex Semin and Nicklas Backstrom and better defence are a must. While only two other clubs outscored the Caps last season (Boston and Detroit), eight had better goals-against records.
"That's the next step for us," Laich agreed. "Backside pressure, not turning the puck over and being aware of the clock ... Getting that first win and playing a great third period (Boston had just three shots), we're really happy.
"My first couple of years here, Ovie was a one-trick pony, and we didn't have the secondary scoring. Now we're doing it by committee with Semin, Backstrom, Mike Knuble, Brendan Morrison, myself ... that's something that will win us more games"