By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
Alex Ovechkin is a three-time Hart Trophy winner, and leads the NHL goal-scoring race by 10 over his closest competitor.
He'll be aiming for a much greater accomplishment in his homeland next week.
Before heading off to the Olympics, Ovechkin looks to continue putting a recent injury behind him and lead the Washington Capitals to a rare win over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night.
Ovechkin has netted 12 goals over the past 13 home games and his last two have been game-winners, giving him seven on the season.
After not reaching the 40-goal mark in either of the NHL's past two 82-game seasons, Ovechkin got there in game No. 54 on Thursday, recording the decisive tally as part of Washington's three-goal third period in a 4-2 win over Winnipeg.
"It's (a) good number," Ovechkin told the league's official website of reaching 40. "I'm pretty sure it's not my last goal, so I don't want to stop. I just want to keep going."
The Russian will be expected to deliver for a host nation starving for hockey gold starting next week, but for now he'll try to settle for helping the Capitals (26-23-9) enter the break in a positive fashion. They've followed a seven-game losing streak with a 4-2-1 stretch, during which Ovechkin has totaled five goals and five assists after missing two games with a lower-body injury.
"Obviously, we need to keep up," goaltender Braden Holtby said. "We've put ourselves in a position where each game keeps getting bigger and bigger. How we're going to be successful is if we dumb it down and we just focus on the little things that we need to do to win games."
Washington has won only once in the past eight meetings with New Jersey (24-21-13), going 1-3-4 after falling 2-1 on the road without Ovechkin on Jan. 24.
He has four goals and one assist over his last two home matchups with the Devils, finding the net once in a 5-4 overtime loss Dec. 21.
Washington, though, will be hoping to see another strong performance from the defensive pairing of rookies Patrick Wey and Julien Brouillette, who have a combined three games of experience in the NHL. They earned their first career points by assisting on Tom Wilson's goal Thursday, hours after being recalled from Hershey of the AHL.
"It's always nice to see those kinds of players. They work hard every night," Ovechkin said. "They do everything for the team ... It's nice when they get to score."
The Devils also had a rookie defenseman come through in their latest game. Jon Merrill scored his first career goal midway through overtime to give New Jersey a 2-1 win over Edmonton on Friday.
"You always dream of this kind of stuff when you're a little kid," said the 22-year-old Merrill, who has played 31 games. "After 20 games went by and I hadn't scored, I think those dreams went away a little bit. I knew it would come when it came."
Jaromir Jagr, meanwhile, continues to be New Jersey's most reliable offensive threat. The right wing has 13 points in 11 games after assisting on Andrei Loktionov's tally Friday.
He's certainly been the Devils' most reliable threat against Washington. Jagr, who turns 42 next Saturday, has five of his team-leading 49 points in the two wins against the Capitals.
He's headed to Sochi with a Czech Republic team that also includes Devils teammates Patrik Elias and Marek Zidlicky and Washington's Martin Erat.
John Carlson (United States), Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson (Sweden) are the other Capitals going to the Winter Games.
Updated February 8, 2014