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Ovechkin eager to help Capitals take next step

by Katie Brown

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin scored 53 goals last season and he averaged 47.5 goals during his 10 years in the NHL.

Though he turned 30 on Thursday and is entering his 11th season with the Capitals, Ovechkin hasn't lost a step, on or off the ice. He's still as happy about playing NHL hockey as he was 10 years ago.

"He's the same," his regular center, Nicklas Backstrom, said Friday at training camp." He's still got lots of energy; fun guy to be around; scores his goals. It's the same Alex. I wouldn't say anything's different."

The Capitals missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2013-14, and last season could have been chalked up as a transition year for Washington under new coach Barry Trotz. Instead, it yielded a playoff run that ended in with a Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers in their Eastern Conference Second Round series.

The Capitals have not advanced past the second round of the playoffs during Ovechkin's 10 seasons in Washington, though they've come close. Last season was the third time they were one win away from the Eastern Conference Final.

Ovechkin is eager to help the Capitals get over that hurdle.

"I feel like a real veteran right now. We have to do some big things right now because it's [been] 10 years," Ovechkin said. "Every year we talk about 'this team can do something.' Right now it's not talking; we have to do it. It's [been] 10 years and we have to move forward and take a big step."

In his second year playing for Trotz, Ovechkin's focus is less on learning systems, as it was last season, and more on doing the things that have made him successful throughout his career, scoring goals.

"I just have to do my thing," Ovechkin said. "Without goals, you can't win. If you score goals you have to think about different things."

In 760 NHL games, Ovechkin has 475 goals and 895 points. The big question is how much longer can he keep up that pace.

"He's got the potential to score for a while," general manager Brian MacLellan said. "Maybe he slows down, it's hard to project."

Forward T.J. Oshie admits he doesn't watch much hockey when he's not playing, but he's familiar with his new teammate's seemingly limitless scoring prowess. Oshie was acquired by the Capitals from the St. Louis Blues on July 2 for forward Troy Brouwer and goaltending prospect Pheonix Copley.

"A lot of us are just scratching to get to 20 [goals] every year and he's working his way up to 50," Oshie said. "It's amazing … to play against that is so difficult because there's always a weapon over there typically on the left side, that you've got to worry about."

Ovechkin has won the Maurice Richard Trophy as the League's top goal-scorer five times, and he has won the Hart Memorial Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award three times each. However, hockey's ultimate achievement has eluded him.

"The biggest thing with Alex is getting him to win a championship," Trotz said. "It's all in. It's important that we get that done. I want to do it with him. He was tremendous last year. Offensively, he ripped it up in terms of the rest of the league."

Ten seasons without getting as far as a conference final have not dampened Ovechkin's resolve or that of his coach and his teammates. If anything, his conviction has only gotten stringer.

"I don't think you have to worry about pushing Alex," Trotz said. "He cares and if he knows you care about him then he understands why you're asking him to do certain things. He's very easily coached."

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