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Thinner Ovechkin arrives early to skate with Capitals teammates

On cusp of 13th NHL season, forward looks leaner after playing at 239 pounds last season

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- A thinner Alex Ovechkin was skating at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Tuesday to prepare for the start of training camp on Sept. 15.

The Washington Capitals forward appears to have taken seriously the challenge from management and the coaching staff to get in better condition this offseason and adapt his game approaching his 13th NHL season. Ovechkin, who turns 32 on Sept. 17, was one of 13 players to skate Tuesday after he flew in from Russia with two teammates, center Evgeny Kuznetsov and defenseman Dmitry Orlov, on Monday.

 

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"You can see he lost some weight," Kuznetsov said. "Every year you're trying to be better. You change something in the summer. Ovi's like other guys, too. He wants to change something, right? It's always nice to see when your teammates get better, they change, they try something new. Maybe you see what they did and you pick up the stuff too. That's always nice."

Ovechkin's weight last season was listed at 239 pounds. He was not available to speak to the media on Tuesday, so it is unknown exactly how he changed his offseason training or how much weight he lost.

But the commitment to getting leaner and faster was something general manager Brian MacLellan and coach Barry Trotz stressed to Ovechkin after his goal production dropped from 50 in 2015-16 to 33 last season, his lowest total in a full season since he had 32 in 2010-11.

"We've discussed it," MacLellan told NHL.com earlier this month. "The game is getting faster and he's getting older. He needs to adjust to the speed level of the game to be an effective player going forward here."

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MacLellan said that Ovechkin was in contact with the Capitals training staff throughout the summer and that Trotz met with him in Moscow during a trip to visit with his son, Tyson, who is living and studying in Russia.

"Barry visited his family in Russia two months ago. He met with him," MacLellan said. "We had the strength trainer and everybody, the organization, has been in contact with him."

MacLellan said Ovechkin was receptive to changing his offseason regimen, but, "The proof will be in the pudding when we come to training camp for sure."

Ovechkin's arrival alone on Tuesday was notable. In the past, he often has waited until closer to the start of training camp before returning to the Washington area.  

"He's going to be good," Orlov said. "He's a professional and he worked hard this summer so he can prepare for the season, and I think he's going to be good."

MacLellan said there was less pressure on Ovechkin to score last season because the Capitals had a deep team offensively with 11 players who scored at least 12 goals. Forward T.J. Oshie tied Ovechkin for the Capitals lead with 33.

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Ovechkin became more of a passer, and his assist total jumped from 21 in 2015-16 to 36 last season, his highest output in a full season since he had 53 in 2010-11. His 313 shots on goal last season were his fewest in a full season since he had 303 in 2011-12. That came after he had a League-high 398 in 2015-16.

To try to keep Ovechkin fresh for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Trotz cut his average ice time from to 20:18 in 2015-16 to a career-low 18:21. But Ovechkin was unable to flip the switch after the regular season and had eight points (five goals, three assists) in 13 playoff games. 

By the end of the Capitals' seven-game loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Second Round, Ovechkin had been dropped to Washington's third line. With the Capitals again failing to advance past the second round of the playoffs, extending a drought that dates to 1998, Ovechkin took much of the blame. 

With the offseason departures of forwards Marcus Johansson (traded to the New Jersey Devils) and Justin Williams (signed with Carolina Hurricanes) and defensemen Karl Alzner (signed with the Montreal Canadiens), Kevin Shattenkirk (signed with the New York Rangers) and Nate Schmidt (claimed by the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft), the Capitals will need more from Ovechkin.

He appears to be serious about preparing for that challenge.

"After we lost to Pittsburgh, a lot of negative things [were said] about our team, about him," Orlov said. "Everybody said, 'The Caps cannot do anything, blah, blah, blah.' So everybody understands and everybody wants to show we can do everything. We just need to believe in ourselves and get prepared for the season. He wants to be where he's always been, one of the superstars in the League, and he wants to work hard and show everybody who he is."

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