PITTSBURGH -- Alex Ovechkin laughed when he was asked what his New Year's plans were going to be. He simply waited for the next question.
It's unlikely he has any, but still it was funny, especially considering Ovechkin said the new 8 p.m. start time for the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic will allow the players to "eat normal food, like, you know, steaks, spaghetti, and just take a nap before the game. If it's going to be at 8, you can celebrate New Year's, too."
Ovechkin flashed his now famous gap-toothed smile when he said it.
The guy loves the publicity, loves the attention, and he's getting it in bunches this weekend.
Here is what else he had to say:
Mario Lemieux said today that Sidney Crosby is the best player in the world. Do those comparisons drive you at all, motivate you at all?
"You see Crosby, Stamkos, they're all top 10 players. The top 10 players just switch positions, but they're still top 10."
You seem to be having fun with your friends out there on the ice. What is the atmosphere like in general? From the moment you guys pulled in on the bus, what's it been like for you?
"The atmosphere is great. It's too bad it was not an open practice for fans. But it's good. We have family and friends with us, and we just chill over there before the big game, so it's good."
Why do you think that you've struggled and not produced as much as you usually do? Do you think you're starting to come out of that now after the last couple of games?
"Of course, I have an empty-net goal (against Montreal), so I feel pretty good."
What were the reasons for your struggles?
"The reason? It's all about me. I have a chance to score goals and I have to score it. If I didn't score it, people are going to say, 'OK, he's not scoring. He's not that good anymore.' And, if I start scoring again like that, I'm going to make a point streak like 10 games and everything is going to be back and I'm not worried about it. I'm just worried about right now like my conditioning -- what's going to happen in the future, in a couple of months. It's the most important thing for me right now."
Do you feel like teams are defending you differently?
"Yeah. You can see the game changing down the line. And, me, Backy (Nicklas Backstrom), Knubs (Mike Knuble) and Sasha (Alexander Semin), if we have the puck I have two guys around me all the time and a third guy comes in behind me and slashes me or does something like that. So, again, we just have to find a way to do it. It's something new for us because we never had the situation before when our line was struggling a little bit. But, again, time will move forward and we are going to find a way, how we have to play against this strategy."
When you're playing these games against the Penguins do you get a sense that the intensity is even higher, that the ice is even harder to come by because of the rivalry?
"Well, I think when you have a sold-out crowd, when you have coaches, trainers and all the players concentrating on the game, the media giving it more attention -- you get more excited and you get more involved with it. When you compare -- if you play against Pittsburgh and against Atlanta, you know, it's two different teams and a different atmosphere. So, it's kind of hard, but it is what it is. We always want to play against good teams. And, when you got a good crowd it's the most important thing. The crowd gets into the game and you get into the game right away, too."
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