It’s a story Barry Trotz has told a few times, but now that Alex Ovechkin is one of only 104 players in NHL history to record 900 points, it’s one worth re-telling.
Shortly after being hired as head coach of the Capitals, Trotz sat down with Ovechkin before the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas and handed him a sheet of paper with 45 questions, thinking the questions would help spark a long conversation that would reveal each other’s personalities.
Three hours later, the two were still talking.
“He’s always honest, bluntly honest, which is fabulous,” Trotz told reporters in Vancouver Thursday prior to the Caps’ game against the Canucks (10 p.m., CSN)
“He’s not giving you a bunch of bull about what he thinks you want to hear. I think he’s very open and I love to go to war with those guys because you know where they stand and what they stand for.
“I got to know him and he’s been terrific to work with and he’s really easy to coach, unlike all the speculation going into it. Until you own it, you don’t know. I’ve enjoyed working with Alex and I feel we have a mutual respect for each other.
“Hopefully, we can help him grow to the next level, everything from his all-around game to his leadership. He’s now 30 years old. He’s not 21. What’s important to him at 30 years old is probably a lot different than at 21.
“He’s maturing as a player and as an icon in this league. He’s going to be a Hall of Fame player. He’s got that rare combination of pure skill and ability to shoot the puck and do some one-on-one stuff that’s eye popping and gets people out of their seats. And he’s got that rare combination of physicality and toughness. He’s not afraid of the big challenges.”
Trotz recalled the first time he coached against the Boston Bruins as Capitals coach and asking Ovechkin about getting away from a matchup against Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Zdeno Chara.
“He looked at me and goes, ‘Why?’” Trotz recalled. “I think I can give you a better matchup. He said, ‘Give me a chance, I’ll show you.’ We don’t worry about matchups with Alex. He likes going against the best in the business. That’s pretty rare. Guys look for advantages and he says, ‘I’ll make my own advantage.’”
Tonight, Ovechkin will face a familiar foe in Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller, another Hall of Fame candidate.
Miller didn’t mince words when asked about facing perhaps the best goal scorer of his generation.
“You have to get set on him early and he puts his whole body into his shot,” Miller said. “He’s like a bull in a china shop. Once he starts heading in one direction he’s just going to run over the first few things in his way.”
Ovechkin, who has four goals in four games, said he’s excited to face Miller.
“It used to be an old-time battle,” he said. “But now (that Miller is in Vancouver) he’s far from where I’m from. He’s one of the top goalies in the league and it’s always a challenge to play against top goaltending. It’s fun.”