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Ovechkin optimistic despite turnover on Capitals roster

Forward says 'I think we still have a good team'

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / NHL.com Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Alex Ovechkin is heading into his 13th NHL season, so maybe that's why the Washington Capitals captain sounded so subdued following the first day of training camp practices Friday.

With his 32nd birthday Sunday, Ovechkin is still chasing the Stanley Cup and, following an offseason when the Capitals lost a number of key players, it would be understandable if it felt further from his grasp than ever. But Ovechkin remains optimistic that the championship he seeks is an attainable goal.

In fact, he said it's his only goal.

"I want to win a Stanley Cup, and that's my priority," he said.

 

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Of course, Ovechkin has said that before. Last season, what appeared to be the Capitals' best chance to win the Stanley Cup with their current core slipped through their fingers after they won the Presidents' Trophy and lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Second Round for the second consecutive season.

That was followed by an offseason of turnover that included the departures of defensemen Karl Alzner (signed with the Montreal Canadiens), Kevin Shattenkirk (signed with the New York Rangers) and Nate Schmidt (chosen by the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL Expansion Draft) and forwards Justin Williams (signed with the Carolina Hurricanes) and Marcus Johansson (traded to the New Jersey Devils). With the Capitals no longer touted among Stanley Cup favorites, they're motivated to prove they've got enough left to win.

"I think we still have a good team," Ovechkin said. "We're not going to be [bad] this year. We're going to be fine. We still have a core group of guys."

The questions about the Capitals aren't only about the players they lost. They also concern Ovechkin, who is coming off a season when his goal production dropped from a League-high 50 in 2015-16 to 33 last season. That was his lowest total in a full season since he scored 32 in 2010-11.

Concerned about Ovechkin's conditioning and that he might have lost a half a step in a game that's getting younger and faster, general manager Brian MacLellan and coach Barry Trotz strongly encouraged he become fitter and faster.

Ovechkin downplayed that Friday and said his weight hasn't changed from the end of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Listed at 239 pounds last season, he said jokingly he's now 259 pounds.

Trotz said that though Ovechkin's weight hasn't changed, his body composition has.

"He's gotten some of that gigantic strength and that exceptional strength that he's known for, he's gotten some of that back, and that changes his body composition," Trotz said. "The weight's not necessarily [different]. It's more, 'Are you fit? Are you a good athlete? Are you ready to go?' And I think he's made a lot stronger commitment there, so that's great."

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Trotz stressed the importance of that commitment when he met with Ovechkin in Moscow in July while on a trip to Russia to visit his son, Tyson, who is living and studying there. Ovechkin he and Barry Trotz met for about an hour and a half and called it a good conversation.

"We talked about a few things," Trotz said. "One of the things was becoming an athlete again, because that's important in this business, especially the way the game is going. It's fast. You've got to be fit. You have to be fit in this game to be productive."

Ovechkin said he did not change his diet but concentrated on some different areas with his personal trainer. 

"We didn't do lots of weights," Ovechkin said. "We just changed it up a little bit, more running stuff and more movements. But I feel the same way I felt last year."

In past years, Ovechkin often waited until closer to the start of training camp before returning to the Washington area, but he was skating at the Capitals practice facility on Aug. 29, two and a half weeks before the start of camp. 

"He looks good," MacLellan said. "He looks ready. He looks excited to play."

Last season, Trotz trimmed Ovechkin's ice time from to 20:18 per game in 2015-16 to a career-low 18:21 to try to keep him fresh for the playoffs, but didn't get the desired payoff. Ovechkin had eight points (five goals, three assists) in 13 playoff games.

This season, the Capitals will need more from Ovechkin to help replace the 48 goals Williams and Johansson scored last season (24 each). But Ovechkin said he's not worrying about how many goals he'll score.

"Goals is not my goal right now," he said.

Ovechkin is the only player in the NHL to score at least 50 goals in the past four seasons (he did it three times), so it might not be realistic to expect any player to reach that number this season. But the Capitals believe Ovechkin can produce at an elite level again.

"He's the only one who's done it, so let's just put [scoring 50] as that would be his goal," Trotz said. "If he doesn't get it, I think he wants to keep a standard that is high."

Scoring has always come naturally to Ovechkin, whose 558 goals since he entered the League in 2005-06 are the most in the NHL. So it's not surprising that he said he doesn't feel pressure to score more.

"I'm old enough to [not put] huge pressure on myself in this position," he said. "It's a good pressure. It's going be my (13th) year, right? I know exactly what I have to do. I know exactly how I have to play. It's just a situation when you have to work harder and be able to generate space for me and my teammates and for my linemates to have a chance to get success out there."

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