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Why Phil Esposito loves Ovechkin's passion for goals

Why Phil Esposito loves Ovechkin's passion for goals

Alex Ovechkin has always played the game with passion. That is never more evident than when he scores. From the gap-toothed smiles to his joyous slamming into the boards, Ovechkin’s celebrations can be contagious. They also can rub people the wrong way.

An old school mentality still permeates through hockey that says any semblance of a personality should be discouraged, everything should be about the team and every goal should be celebrated with only tepid excitement so as not to show anyone up or to make it about you. Long-time rival Sidney Crosby, for example, is seen as the quintessential hockey star, a good ol' Canadian boy with a more muted personality who at most will celebrate with a fist pump before quickly skating to the bench. Ovechkin is essentially the antithesis of that. As a result, he has faced a lot of criticism from the “old guard,” people who find it important to maintain this old school mentality within the game.

But not Phil Esposito.

Esposito is one of the all-time greats of hockey. His 717 goals rank sixth all-time, he is in the Hockey Hall of Fame, a two-time Stanley Cup champion and two-time Hart Trophy winner as MVP. The 77-year-old Ontario native has all the credentials of an old school hockey authority.

So what are Esposito’s thoughts on Ovechkin and the way he plays the game? He loves it.

“I like somebody who shows passion doing something that he loves to do,” Esposito. “Sometimes I get kind of aggravated with North Americans because they take it for granted when they score. They don’t show that excitement and passion as much as Alex does.”

That certainly flies in the face of the Don Cherry disciples who think anything more than a smile is over the top.

Ovechkin has never been shy about his love for scoring and that is evident in the excitement he shows after every single goal. To Esposito, that kind of passion was necessary for a Russian player to dominate in the NHL.

You don’t have to talk to Esposito very long before he brings up the Summit Series. The Summit Series was a series of eight games between Canada and the Soviet Union played in 1972.

Four games were played in Canada and four were played in the Soviet Union. The Soviets won twice in Canada, but Canada ultimately won four out of eight games with three losses and one tie.

Esposito described what he felt was a seminal moment for Russian hockey.

“I remember in 1972 when we were over (in Moscow), we beat them in Russia (in the Summit Series),” Esposito said, “Boris Kulagin, who was one of the (Soviets’) coaches, said, ‘Until we match the passion of the North Americans, we won’t beat them.’ Well, guess what?

“Alex Ovechkin, when he first came in, I loved him. When he scored, and he still does it today, he loves it. He jumps up and down. A couple of times I thought he was going to jump over the glass.”

According to Esposito, it's the passion, for which Ovechkin was so often criticized earlier in this career, that could end up leading him to become the greatest scorer of all-time.

“I think that’s why Alex is going to score probably another 150 goals, maybe more, before he retires,” Esposito said. “He’s got a chance to catch Wayne, there’s no doubt about that. And rightly so. But it’s his passion to score, his passion to win. And I like that. I like that a lot.”

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What should the NHL look like when the season resumes? Caps GM weighs in on the possibilities

What should the NHL look like when the season resumes? Caps GM weighs in on the possibilities

The NHL season has been paused for two weeks and, with no real timetable for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, no one knows when the season could resume. Whenever it does, there is no question that the season format will have to be tweaked in some way to account for the special circumstances. Because of that, just what the season should look like when play resumes has become a major topic of discussion in hockey circles.

Alex Ovechkin said on Thursday that he would like to see the league jump straight into the playoffs. On Monday, Caps general manager Brian MacLellan weighed in.

"Fair to me would be all teams play the same number of games, both home and away," he said on a conference call, "So depending on the time you have when we come back or if we come back, you could set the schedule at 72, 74 games, close to possible of home and away if you could even those out and then kind of go from there after that."

For MacLellan, the biggest issues are the quality of play in the playoffs and the readiness of the players for that high-intensity hockey.

“I think ideally if time permitted, you would like a few games, but I would also be OK with jumping in the playoffs. I think for the benefit of the quality of play and the players’ health, ideally you’re playing a few games before you enter the playoffs.”

"It's going to be a challenge," he added. "We're going to end up being at least two months off, and to come in at various levels of conditioning -- some of it out of the players' hands -- it's going to be a hard thing to accomplish, to get players into game shape and send them into a playoff-type situation almost immediately."

One issue is that even when the coronavirus is under control, that doesn't mean the threat is totally gone. Unless there is a vaccine, should the NHL return this season certain precautions will have to be taken when the players return to begin practicing.

MacLellan said the team is discussing the possibility of small group skates and what precautions the team can take at its practice facility, MedStar Capitals Iceplex, to help prevent any of the players from contracting the virus.

"We've talked about that scenario taking place where we get on the other side of the virus curve and there's beginnings of you can have small groups," MacLellan said. "Could we structure something at [Medstar Capitals Iceplex] where we're bringing in three, four guys at a time? How do we handle sanitizing the training room, the equipment room? We've gone through these scenarios to be prepared if that becomes the case. If they say in June, OK you can start doing this, as an organization we want to be prepared for it. So that is a possibility and we're discussing it internally."

These are issues that must be discussed because the NHL is adamant that the Stanley Cup be awarded this year and that means probably playing hockey deep into the summer.

"I think depending on how the country, the world handles the virus, I think there is a possibility of playing end of June, July, August," MacLellan said. "I think the league is prepared, they've asked for building dates in August so I'm assuming it's a serious consideration on their part."

Just what that hockey will look like, however, is anyone's guess. There are still too many questions and too many unknowns about the league's possible return for there to be any definitive playoff format for the 2019-20 season. Until there is some clarity on when play may resume and how much time there will be for the remainder of the current season, then everyone remains in the dark.

"There's no set answer to it because I don't know how much time we're going to have," MacLellan said. "If we have eight weeks, do we have ten weeks, do we have more than 10 weeks? Depending on that time frame and if that's even legitimate at the time, you would have to set your schedule there. So could you shorten a series? Could you shorten the end of the schedule? I think all those options are on the table and I think it's just how the virus plays out and how we handle it and how much time we would have to get a season in if we could get a season in at the end."

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WATCH: Carl Hagelin is staying in shape by working out with his daughter

WATCH: Carl Hagelin is staying in shape by working out with his daughter

One of the biggest challenges for professional athletes during this coronavirus pandemic is keeping in shape. The lack of practices and games has forced them to find other ways to work out.

Capitals forward Carl Hagelin is doing his best to keep his legs ready for the return of the NHL season by high stepping in his front yard—with his one-year-old daughter Blanche.

If anything good has come out of this outbreak, it’s been the influx of home videos from athletes hanging out with their families.

Hagelin hasn’t posted much on Instagram since the social distancing guidelines went into effect, but this video with Blanche is already one of the best that’s come from a Capitals player so far.

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