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An older, wiser Alex Ovechkin leading the way for Capitals

NEWS
News
80   //    29 May 2018, 02:00 IST
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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Last spring, after another crushing postseason loss, Capitals coach Barry Trotz flew to Russia to meet with his best player.

Trotz spoke with Alex Ovechkin about his game and how it might be fine-tuned to prolong his career. They discussed the coming season and setting the tone in training camp for a team getting younger and undergoing a roster overhaul.

There were bumps in the road, but the end result has seen a reinvigorated Ovechkin playing an instrumental role in getting Washington within reach of its first Stanley Cup.

"You don't want to be a one-trick pony in this league," Trotz said. "The league keeps changing on you."

Ovechkin, whose Capitals faced the expansion Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of the final Monday night, scored 49 times this season after just 33 goals in 2016-17.

"The one thing that Alex does better than anybody, maybe in the history of the game, is score goals," Trotz said. "He has fantastic release. He plays a physical game for a pure-skill guy. There's so many things that he's done for the game. But we talked about finding other ways to be effective."

The 32-year-old Ovechkin has done just that in pretty much every facet of his game.

"I try to do my best in the regular year, in the playoffs," he said. "Of course, in the playoffs, you don't have tomorrow."

Ovechkin has won the Richard Trophy seven times as the top goal scorer. He has 607 goals in 1,003 career regular-season games, 19th on the career list. Another 49 next season would tie him with Brendan Shanahan for 13th.

"He has that ability to see past the block, see past the goalie," Trotz said. "Some of the better goal scorers in this league don't see goalies, they just see empty spots. Guys that aren't goal scorers, they see the goalie."

Trotz sees a certain ease in Ovechkin that wasn't there when the Capitals were having great regular seasons only to fall well short in the playoffs.

"He's very comfortable within our group," Trotz said. "And he's very comfortable pushing forward and not worrying about anything else."

That comfort was on display Sunday when he was asked about the impact his first trip to the Stanley Cup final is having in Russia.

"Vladimir Putin called me and wished me luck," Ovechkin said before pausing. "No it's (a) joke."

Until now, Ovechkin was criticized for the Capitals' postseason failures. Washington had never moved beyond the second round during his career until this spring surge, with ousters by the Pittsburgh Penguins the last two years especially difficult.

He had 46 goals in 97 career playoff games before adding 12 more on this current playoff run. But despite an experienced roster and plenty of blame to go around, the finger-pointing was often aimed at Ovechkin.

"Being the captain and the highest-paid player, I think he got a lot of unfair criticism," said Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik, who has played with and against Ovechkin. "That comes with the territory. I think he understands that, but it was really good to see him get by the second round.

"I don't think he necessarily did that much different. I think we just played better as a team."

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