Other than getting engaged, turning 30 and being presented with a sheep for his birthday, it’s been a rather ordinary week for Alex Ovechkin.
Now on the verge of his 11th NHL season and 25 goals away from the legendary 500 club, Ovechkin was asked Friday about a variety of topics when he met with the media following the first day of training camp.
The most pressing, of course, is whether this will be the season the Capitals bust through their window of opportunity and win the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
“Every year we talk about this team can do something,” Ovechkin said. “I think right now it’s time to (stop) talking and we have to do it. It’s 10 years and we have to move forward and take a big step. That’s it.”
Excluding the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, when he led the NHL with 32 goals in 48 games, Ovechkin has averaged 49 goals and 97 points a season since joining the Capitals as a 19-year-old rookie in 2005.
“The consistency is unbelievable,” said right wing T.J. Oshie, who is expected to play alongside Ovechkin on the Capitals’ top line. “I feel like a lot of us are just scratching to get to 20 every year and he’s working his way up to 50. It’s amazing to see how he can score goals and to have that firepower on your team.”
Ovechkin won his fifth Rocket Richard trophy last season as the NHL’s leading goal scorer, but the babe Ruth of hockey silenced his critics with his improved defensive play, turning a career-worst minus-35 in 2013-14 to a plus-10 last season.
“He was good but at the same time, we’re a team and we all can get better, including him,” Capitals center and longtime linemate Nicklas Backstrom said. “That’s what we’re looking for.”
“I just have to do my thing because without goals you can’t win,” he said. “But if you’re not scoring goals you can do something different, like make assist, make a defensive play, make a big hit or something else.
“I hope this year is going to be much better for me personally, and for the team as well.”
Justin Williams, who along with Oshie participated in his first fitness skate under Barry Trotz, said Ovechkin possess the rare combination of power and skill, saying he’s just as likely to “put you in the third row” as he is blowing a shot past you. But it’s that shot that makes Ovechkin something special.
“There’s no one in the league who shoots as good as he does,” Backstrom said. “I talk to goalies and it’s so hard for them to read his shot, and it’s quick, too. I think he shoots from all angles, too, and a lot of people can’t do that the way he can. He knows how to put it in.”
Despite an increasing number of gray hairs and a birth certificate that says he’s closer to the end of his career than the start of it, Ovechkin says he feels like he’s 21 but understands the urgency to get the Capitals past the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1998.
“I feel like a veteran right now, obviously,” he said. “We have to do some good things right now because 10 years and it’s always been the same thing.”
Credited with grooming Ovechkin into a better two-way player last season, Trotz said there is really only one thing missing in his captain’s game.
“Number one is getting him to win a championship,” Trotz said. “It’s important we get that done. I want that for him and the group of guys in that room quickly. He’s all in in terms of the value of what we’re trying to do. You saw it in his game last year. His overall game was dynamic.
“Ovi’s 30 and he’s gone through a lot of things here. He’s gone from a young phenom to a solid veteran to a great leader to one of the best goal scorers and dynamic players that fills the seats night in and night out that the game has now. I think the next step for him is to try to find that ring.”
For the first time in his NHL career, Ovechkin will need to adapt to life without Mike Green feeding him on the power play and he may begin the season without long-time center Backstrom (hip) feeding him at even strength. But after 10 years, Ovechkin still brings an unbridled energy to the rink and until he loses that, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan believes it will be hard for teams to contain him.
“I guess there’s a lifespan, but there’s still an enthusiasm there, he still likes to play. And I think he’s got a good shot. Until you lose your shot – and he’s playing with Nick, who’s going to get him his shots – he’s got the potential to score for a while.
“Maybe he slows down, I don’t know, it’s hard to project. He could keep it going because he’s a goal scorer and he likes to score goals. He’s durable, he’s thick, he’s strong and he plays through stuff.”