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Alex Ovechkin having grand old time with Capitals

Captain focused on winning, fun, family as he approaches 1,000 NHL points

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- The most obvious giveaway is the hair.

What started out jet black began turning salt and pepper a few years back and, now at age 31, Alex Ovechkin's mix is more salt than pepper. 

The Washington Capitals captain is no longer the fresh-faced kid who took the NHL by storm as a 20-year-old rookie in 2005-06, but some of his child-like exuberance remains, particularly in the joy he exudes in his goal celebrations.

But as Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan noted, "He's mellowed a little bit."

"He's not as much of a little kid as he's always been," MacLellan said. "He still has a passion and likes to have fun, but it's different than it was earlier in his career."

Video: WSH@MTL: Ovechkin snaps in his 999th career point

The passion that drives Ovechkin most on the ice now is winning. He's accomplished a lot statistically and individually over his 12 seasons in the League but has not been able to get his hands on the Stanley Cup.

So, as he approaches another significant individual milestone, needing one point to reach 1,000 in the League heading into the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Verizon Center on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports) he acknowledges, "It's a huge accomplishment and it's going to be great." But he also said it's something he hasn't really been thinking about.

There have been 83 previous players to reach 1,000 points in the League. Ovechkin would be the fourth Russia-born player to do it, joining Sergei Fedorov (1,179), Alexander Mogilny (1,032) and Alexei Kovalev (1,029).

"It's nice to be in this company," Ovechkin said.

With 544 goals, Ovechkin is also in good company on the NHL all-time list, tied with Maurice Richard for 29th. He tied Jaromir Jagr for the most regular-season overtime goals in League history when he scored his 19th in a 6-5 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 3.

Video: TOR@WSH: Ovechkin nets OT winner off Carlson's pass

Ovechkin has won the Maurice Richard Trophy (top goal scorer) six times, including the past four seasons, and is the only player in the League to score at least 50 goals each of the past three seasons. His production is down a little this season with 19 goals in the Capitals' first 40 games, which has him on pace to finish with 38.

That would be his lowest total in a full season since he scored 38 in 2011-12. But he's not that far behind where he was at this point last season, when he had 24 goals in the first 40 games.

Ovechkin's point production is also down with 33 in 40 games compared to 37 through the same number of games last season. He's picked it up of late with 11 points in his past 13 games (six goals, five assists) but evaluates his season as OK so far.

"It's gone back and forth," he said. "The most important thing right now is to win games."

Before the season, Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said he told Ovechkin, "It doesn't matter to us if you lead the League in goals."

"We have to be solely about collective team success, and Alex has embraced that," Leonsis said.

That's included playing a little less. In an effort to spread out the workload and keep Ovechkin fresher for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Capitals coach Barry Trotz has trimmed his ice time from 20:18 per game last season to 18:23 per game this season.

Trotz explained the plan to him before the season and though Ovechkin admitted, "I want to play more," he's been willing to do whatever his coach asks.

Video: WSH@NYI: Ovechkin roofs a backhand past Halak

"[Trotz] said he wants give everybody the same time during the regular [season] but in the playoffs, it's going to be different," Ovechkin said. "But, again, the most important thing is the game results and I hope we're going to do better this year than we did last year."

Last season was a familiar story for Ovechkin and the Capitals. They ran away with the Presidents' Trophy and set a Capitals record with 56 wins but lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Second Round.

Although Ovechkin had five goals and seven assists in 12 playoff games, including two goals and five assists in six games against the Penguins, the spotlight was again on him because the Capitals haven't advanced past the second round during his NHL career. Now into his second decade in the League, Ovechkin is more determined than ever to get over that hurdle.

"He's accomplished most of the things he's wanted to and now it's the team, the team accomplishment. I think that's important to him," MacLellan said. "As he's evolved and matured as a person, I think that's become more important to him."

So when Trotz suggested this season that Ovechkin go to the net more and work on getting more of the dirty deflection and rebound goals that often win playoff games, Ovechkin's answer was, "Why not?"

"You always want to work on something," Ovechkin said. "It's something nobody thinks I can do, so why not?"

One of the reasons Ovechkin has been so consistent in his production throughout his career, ranking fifth in NHL history in averaging .620 goals per game, has been his ability to adapt. The game has changed multiple times during his 12 seasons and so has he.

"The game keeps changing and you have to change with it, but the constant is he's a scorer," Trotz said. "That's what he does."

Video: TBL@WSH: Ovechkin buries pretty breakaway goal

As Ovechkin's priorities on the ice have changed, so have those away from the rink. In August, he married Russian model Nastya Shubskaya and the couple is planning to start a family.

Ovechkin's love of children has long been evident in his charity work. The smile on his face during a holiday skating session with children from Fort Dupont Cannons Ice Hockey Club last month was another reminder of that.

"Of course, me and my wife want kids and hope sooner or later the kids come into our family and we'll become the Ovechkins," he said proudly.

When that time comes, learning to balance hockey with being a father will be another adjustment Ovechkin will have to make. He said he has not thought yet about how much longer he wants to play. He has four more seasons remaining on his contract after this one and will be 35 when it expires. After that, he said, "We'll see how it goes."

Although it appears Ovechkin would have at least an outside chance to break Wayne Gretzky's NHL record of 894 goals if he plays long enough and remains healthy and productive, he stated firmly, "I don't think that's possible."

"I talked to Wayne and I don't think those records can be beaten, ever," Ovechkin said. "The game has changed. I'd have to score what, 50 goals every year for six years? That's 300 and that's still not enough."

Ovechkin's focus is more in the short term and on winning. In a constantly evolving game with his career clock ticking louder, he'll have to continue to evolve as well.

"You just have to use any chance you have," he said. "Hockey has changed. The game has changed. You just have to be ready for that."

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