ARLINGTON, Va. — alex ovechkin began his 18th NHL training camp Thursday not focusing on the 21 goals he needs to score to trap Gordie Howe for second in NHL history, but thinking more about how many chances he has left to win. the Stanley Cup again with the Washington Capitals.
“I’m at the age where personal goals are cute, but we understand every year [you get closer] until the end of your career,” the 37-year-old forward said. “So I just want to win. I want to be in the playoffs and fight for the Cup.”
The Capitals have qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for eight straight seasons and 14 of the last 15, but haven’t won a postseason series since winning the Stanley Cup in 2018. Washington lost to the Florida Panthers in six games in the First Round of the Eastern Conference. last season, ending a historic campaign when Ovechkin tied the NHL record with his ninth 50-goal season and surpassed Marcel Dionne (731), Brett Hull (741) and Jaromir Jagr (766) to climb from seventh to third on the league goals list with 780 behind Wayne Gretzky (894) and Howe (801).
So while chasing Howe will be a major storyline for Ovechkin this season, his mind is understandably elsewhere. That starts with helping the Capitals get off to a strong start to the regular season at small forward. Nicklas Backstrom (left hip rejuvenation surgery) indefinitely and forward tom wilson (torn anterior cruciate ligament in left knee) sidelined until at least December.
“The most important thing is that everyone has to be healthy and we have to make the playoffs,” Ovechkin said. “Those first 20 games are very important, so you have to [earn] points, so if you’re going to have some ups and downs during the season, you still have those points. … You don’t want to play only six months. You want to play for eight months and play for the Cup.”
Ovechkin played a big role for the 17-5-6 Capitals, while Backstrom missed the first 28 games last season because of his hip. He scored 44 points (20 goals, 24 assists) during that span on his way to finishing with 90 points (50 goals, 40 assists), the most by him since he scored 109 in 2009-10.
Although Ovechkin is a year older, Washington will need similar production from him this season.
“I wouldn’t bet against him,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “I think he’s strong-willed and he knows what he wants to do and accomplish, and usually when he’s in that mood, he accomplishes what he wants.”
After spending the summer in his native Russia working with his personal trainer Pavel Burlachenko, Ovechkin showed up to training camp in peak condition for his 10th 50-goal season, which would break the NHL record he shares with Gretzky and Mike Bossy.
“He looks great,” trainer Peter Laviolette said. “You wouldn’t know the difference from when I got here [in 2020] and the way he looked now. Today’s skate tryout knocks him out of the park and into camp in great shape. Seeing the way last year started, I was on fire. That’s just a credit to him and the way he trains and what he puts into it and how much this means to him.”
Ovechkin said he and Burlachenko tweaked their offseason training schedule a bit this summer, but not much.
“Obviously every year we try to do something different, something more,” he said. “But right now, I’m pretty happy with where my form is.”
Ovechkin is optimistic about the Capitals’ chances after a busy offseason when they signed darcy kumper to a five-year, $26.25 million deal to be their No. 1 goalkeeper and added forwards connor brown (trade with Ottawa senators) and dylan strome (he signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal) to help fill the void created by injuries to Backstrom and Wilson.
“We can’t wait long,” Ovechkin said. “Today we finished our skating tryout. That’s a good thing. Tomorrow is going to be a tough practice, so we’ll start from there.”
After playing Ovechkin for 10 NHL seasons, Kuemper hopes to play him and get a ringside seat as he chases Howe and then Gretzky. Ovechkin has four seasons left on the five-year, $47.5 million contract he signed last summer.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun to be a part of that and watch the story unfold,” Kuemper said. “A kind of side story throughout all the seasons and seeing him pursue the story is going to be fun.”
defending john carlson He has grown accustomed to Ovechkin reaching milestones during his 13 seasons as his teammate, but acknowledged that catching Howe, who held the NHL scoring record until Gretzky broke it in 1994, would be different.
“It’s one thing to lead the league in scoring year after year, but right now it’s like we’re talking about real things,” Carlson said. “So, on the one hand, I’m kind of blind and numb to how high it’s gotten on that list and how tangible it is. It seems like during the season it’s one thing after another. Every day it’s something.”
For now, though, Ovechkin is putting aside his thoughts on Howe and the 21 goals he needs to tie him.
“Let’s wait,” he said. “I can’t score 21 goals in a game. I can’t, so let’s wait.”