ARLINGTON, Va. -- Alex Ovechkin's Sept. 1 arrival in D.C., his earliest to start the season since his rookie year, was one of many signs in the weeks leading up to training camp that things would be different this year.
As camp opened this morning, a new attitude surrounds this Capitals bunch, regular-season darlings for four years with wins in only two playoff rounds to show for their efforts.
"When guys are younger you give them a little more leeway for mistakes on and off the ice," said veteran Mike Knuble, entering his third season with the Caps. "You have to live with some errors on the ice and you live with some errors off the ice -- you put up with guys being late, figuring stuff out, not being on-time, but that was erased last year for the most part and I expect this year will be even tighter."
Simply put Knuble said, the atmosphere as the Caps open camp is "a little bit less loose" than in past years. That attitude change was on display this morning as the Capitals were put through a grueling conditioning test involving five skates of 900-feet each.
"The great Herb Brooks used to do this sort of thing," said general manager George McPhee who played for Brooks with the New York Rangers. "We just thought it was something we wanted to do this season. There's no place to hide, you can certainly see who's in shape and who isn't and it gives the players an objective to work towards when they come into camp."
Ovechkin cruised through the first two sprints before slowing down the stretch. He laughed it off later saying he was guilty of thinking it would be easy.
But the captain, who turns 26 today, agrees that the 2011-12 season will have a different tone and it begins with players holding themselves accountable.
"I think the expectations are always high for this team, especially now as we get more mature, older and more experienced," Ovechkin said. "I think Knubs is right. It's not the responsibility of just one player or of the coaches but it's the responsibility of the whole organization. I think everybody understands it's not time for excuses right now."
Added Knuble: "I just think we're a good team. You can't call us a good young team. We're a good veteran team, our young guys aren't kids anymore. They're still our 'young guns' or whatever but they're on the other side of 25 now -- they're not kids anymore."