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Ovechkin picking up where he left off last season for Capitals

Forward has fast start despite short offseason after Stanley Cup victory

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Although the celebration of the 2017-18 Stanley Cup championship is over, life is still pretty good for Alex Ovechkin.

Off the ice, the Washington Capitals captain is enjoying being a new father, after his son, Sergei, was born Aug. 18. On the ice, he's off to a strong start to the new season.

Through 10 games, Ovechkin leads Washington with eight goals, three behind Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane and Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak for the NHL lead. His 14 points are tied with John Carlson for second on the Capitals behind Evgeny Kuznetsov's 15 (five goals, 10 assists).

Not that the 33-year-old left wing is satisfied.

"It doesn't matter how many points you have," he said. "You want to get better stats."

There's a decent chance Ovechkin will add to his totals when the Capitals face the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET; TSN2, RDS, NBCSWA, NHL.TV) He has 49 points (27 goals, 22 assists) in 46 games against Montreal, including a four-goal game last season, and calls Bell Centre his "favorite place" to play on the road.

Video: WSH@VAN: Ovechkin scores, Backstrom gets 600th assist

But to Capitals coach Todd Reirden, it's more than Ovechkin's goals and points that have impressed him about his start.

"I've liked how his overall game has been good and consistent, and I've liked how his first 10 games have been compared to last year's 10 games," Reirden said. "Maybe he had a few more goals initially, obviously, with the hat tricks and stuff like that, but his overall game for me is better."

It would have been difficult for anyone to match the start Ovechkin had to last season when he scored seven goals in the Capitals' first two games -- three in the opener against the Ottawa Senators and four against the Canadiens -- becoming the first player in 100 years to begin a season with consecutive hat tricks. Through 10 games, he had 10 goals, and he went on to score 49 to win the Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL leading goal-scorer for the seventh time.

What makes Ovechkin's start to this season more impressive is he's coming off a short offseason after winning the Stanley Cup, which meant less time to train. After watching Ovechkin lead the Capitals' very public celebration of the first championship in their 44-season history, from frolicking in Georgetown fountains to dancing with the Cup at parties, some wondered how focused he'd be on this season.

Reirden was among those surprised when Ovechkin showed up for training camp in even better condition than last season. Although Ovechkin remains listed at 235 pounds, Reirden said he reported for training camp two pounds lighter than last season and with a lower percentage of body fat.

"I'm quite impressed, quite impressed with his leadership and how he's acted in practices and the way he showed up for training camp," said Reirden, who is in his first season as coach after four seasons with Washington as an assistant and associate coach. "I'll be completely honest in saying that I didn't expect him to be in as good of shape as he was when he got here. We'd had a conversation and he knew the standards that he was going to be held to and he wasn't even close to them. He was lighter than the whole time I've been here.

Video: NYR@WSH: Ovechkin blasts in two PPGs from Carlson

"So, I can't say enough about that. That's awesome."

Ovechkin said he began his training shortly after having his two days with the Cup in Moscow on July 7 and 8. While awaiting Sergei's arrival, he and wife, Nastya, headed to Miami on July 21 and spent the rest of the summer there working out with his personal trainer.

Ovechkin said they mixed in more off time between workouts this offseason to give him a physical break and a mental break from thinking about hockey so he wouldn't be burned out. To do that, they cut some of the heavy weightlifting and other strength work, and focused more on conditioning.

He's doing more strength training now that the season has begun.

"I had a schedule with my trainer, so I think we did a very good job, especially when we went to Miami," he said. "We researched the place where we [worked out] and I skated in the Florida Panthers training facility. It was kind of cool, but sometimes you just need more rest than practices. That's what our philosophy was this summer."

So far, that philosophy appears to be paying off, but Ovechkin expects to get a better idea of that in the coming month. After playing 10 games in October, the Capitals have 15 in November.

"Mentally, I feel better [than last season]," he said. "But physically, it's hard to say because last year we had a different schedule. Last year, almost every second day we had a game. and this year as soon as you get in a rhythm then you have days off. But right now, almost every second day we're going to have a game, so it's going to be fun."

The negative to the busier schedule is Ovechkin will have less free time to spend with Sergei. When he's on the road, such as the recent seven-day trip to play the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames last week, he checks in on his son via FaceTime.

"I don't want to miss many days, but the good thing is with technology you can have FaceTime or whatever and you can see how he's smiling or doing something," Ovechkin said. "He's getting so big right now. It's fun to watch how he's growing up."

Apparently, Sergei is already taking after his old man as far as how fast he's growing.

"Oh yeah," Ovechkin said. "He's huge."

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