CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa.—The Penguins’ locker room at their gleaming practice facility in suburban Pittsburgh featured a distinctly different look Sunday night. With Team Russia in town for a World Cup of Hockey practice, red and gold was everywhere. Russia's team crest adorned the carpet and the lockers. Name tags for Ovechkin, Orlov and Kuznetsov hung above the stalls.
The weirdness of it all was not lost on the Capitals’ captain, who seemed amused that his temporary locker was just a couple of inches from where Penguins’ captain Sidney Crosby normally dresses.
“Yeah, it’s kind of weird,” Ovechkin cracked. “The guys joke around.”
“I think Sid is sitting here,” he added, gesturing toward an empty locker between his stall and Evgeni Malkin’s. “They put my here next to his stall, so it’s kind of weird.”
Ovechkin and his Russian teammates arrived from the Czech Republic around 5 p.m. Sunday evening and by 7:45 were on the ice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex for a vigorous hour long skate. Jetlag be damned. With a pre-tournament game against Canada on Wednesday night at the CONSOL Energy Center looming, there was no time to waste.
Asked what kind of reception he expects to receive from the Pittsburgh crowd, Ovechkin smiled and said only, “We’ll see.”
During the practice, Ovechkin once again skated on a line with Washington teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov. Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov, meantime, also worked alongside Ovechkin and Kuznetsov since Russia’s practice groupings consist of one forward line and one D-pairing.
That familiarity, though, may or may not help Team Russia, according to Ovechkin.
“Yeah, chemistry is always nice to have, but right now it’s a little bit too early to talk about chemistry,” Ovechkin said. “We play only two [pre-tournament] games. It’s kind of hard to say how it’s going to go in Toronto, but we are going to play our best and try to win some games.”
International competitions mean a lot to Russia and Ovechkin, who was recently named captain of his homeland’s World Cup entry. He last served as the national team captain at the 2014 World Championships, where Russia captured gold.
“I tell the coach right away, ‘Thanks,’” Ovechkin said. “Lots of players here in the team—[Andrei] Markov, [Pavel] Datsyuk, Geno [Malkin]—all these guys can be the captain. It’s a huge honor.”
Speaking of Malkin, what does he think about sharing the Penguins’ locker room with a trio of Capitals?
“We’re friends,” the Pittsburgh star said. “They’re good guys. It’s very funny. Lots of joking around. It’s a great time.”
Well, at least until Oct. 13th—when the Penguins raise their fourth championship banner prior to host the Caps in the regular season opener.
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