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Ovechkin reflects on decade as Capitals captain

Forward erased stigmas, helped Washington win first Stanley Cup championship in 2018

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Alex Ovechkin's decade as captain of the Washington Capitals feels like a blur to him at times.

So much has happened for him and the Capitals that the anniversary, which the 34-year-old forward celebrated with a 5-4 overtime win against the San Jose Sharks at Capital One Arena on Sunday, snuck up on him.

"Time flies," Ovechkin said Saturday. "I remember that moment. Obviously, in that 10 years, there have been ups and downs, lots of situations, but it was a great experience."

Ovechkin ranks 12th in NHL history with 682 goals in 15 seasons, and with 24 goals this season, he is closing in on becoming the eighth player in NHL history to reach 700. But the crowning achievement for him as captain was helping the Capitals to their first Stanley Cup championship in 2018, when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy voted as most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

Video: Is Ovechkin the purest goal scorer of all time?

Ovechkin was the first Russia-born captain to win the Cup and, after years of postseason disappointments, put to rest for good questions about his leadership and ability to win.

"Lots of people said, 'This organization and this guy are never going to win,'" Ovechkin said. "So how I say? … We did it and I was the first (Russian) captain to win it and raise it."

It seemed a forgone conclusion that Ovechkin, the No. 1 pick in the 2004 NHL Draft, would be named the 14th captain in Capitals history when his predecessor, Chris Clark, was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Dec. 28, 2009. Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom said then-Washington coach Bruce Boudreau asked the players who they thought should be the next captain, and the verdict was unanimous.

"Bruce asked around a little bit who would be a good choice, and everyone said the same thing," Backstrom said. "I think it was a pretty easy choice because he was our leader on ice, and we followed him."

Video: WSH@CAR: Ovechkin moves past Selanne on PPGs list

However, it was still a surprise when Ovechkin stepped on the ice wearing the C for the first time for warmups prior to the Capitals' 4-2 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 5, 2010. That's because the Capitals didn't make a formal announcement that Ovechkin had been named captain.

Boudreau and then-Capitals general manager George McPhee informed Ovechkin of the decision the day prior.

"Bruce said, 'You're going to be our next captain' and he tells (me) in front of the whole team and the whole team was pretty excited, pretty happy," Ovechkin said. "There was lots of smiles, claps and lots of congrats. It was a pretty big moment for me and for the organization."

Ovechkin was 24 years old at the time, making him the second youngest captain in Capitals history behind Ryan Walter (who was 21 when he was named captain in 1979-80) and the third youngest captain in the NHL behind Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who was then 22, and Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks, who was 21.

Video: WSH@NJD: Ovechkin pots wrister from above the circle

Now, Ovechkin is the fifth-longest tenured captain in the NHL behind Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins (named on Oct. 3, 2006), Crosby (May 31, 2007), Toews (July 18, 2008), and Mikko Koivu of the Minnesota Wild (Oct. 20, 2009), and only Rod Langway has been captain of the Capitals longer in their history (10 years, 130 days).

"I think the first couple years it was kind of hard because obviously, my English was not that good and sometimes when I tried to say something or explain something, I think the guys tried to help me out," Ovechkin said. "But I had lots of experienced guys in the locker room who basically helped me out and I watched how they talked and how they react in certain things. It was helpful."

But being captain brought additional pressure for Ovechkin. Although he had won the Hart Trophy voted as the NHL's most valuable player three times (2007-08, 2008-09, 2012-13) and the Maurice Richard Trophy as the leading goal-scorer seven times (2007-08, 2008-09, 2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2017-18), before the 2018 playoffs began, he was often blamed for the Capitals' postseason failures.

Despite winning the Presidents' Trophy for most regular-season points three times (2009-10, 2015-16, 2016-17), Washington had failed to advance past the second round of the playoffs prior to 2018. So when the Capitals finally broke through and won the Cup, it was a relief for Ovechkin and the rest of the team.

"I think we improved a lot with this group of guys who have been here since Day One," Ovechkin said. "We have lots of situations that were hard situations because you never know what's going to happen. But we stuck together and that's the most important thing. When we won the Cup, it was kind of a relief from our shoulders and from our organization as well."

Video: SJS@WSH: Caps honor Ovechkin's 10th year as captain

Backstrom, who will also mark his 10th anniversary as an alternate captain on Sunday, has been Ovechkin's right-hand man through it all and has enjoyed seeing his evolution not only as a player, but a leader as well. 

"When he first got it, he was still young," Backstrom said. "I think everything is a process. You grow as a person and it's been fun watching him. He's getting older and more mature. I think that leader role was good for him."

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