The calmer lifestyle, he realized, wasn’t so bad.
“One hundred percent, I’m settled down. It’s no question,” Ovechkin said. “Now I just go home [after practices] watch the movies, check out the Internet, play the video games and that’s it. It’s slower. My friends come here, pick me up, we go to dinner, and at 10 p.m., I’m home. It’s not like I used to be, when crazy stuff happened.”
Over the past week as he prepared for his eighth NHL season, which begins Saturday when the Washington Capitals visit Tampa Bay, Ovechkin has shown a different side of himself and there are subtle signs that at 27 years old he is evolving from “Young Gun” to grown-up.
Sure, he still drives an electric blue Mercedes SL65 AMG that announces his arrival anywhere with a throaty rumble, wears T-shirts that read “Am I really the prettiest one here, again?” in Russian, cracks jokes at the expense of local reporters and propels himself around the ice with unparalleled, thunderous force.
But Ovechkin has also opened up to change in his game, seeking consistent input from new Coach Adam Oates and lingering a little longer in meetings with team officials.
“There seems to be a new maturity there,” General Manager George McPhee said. “Whether that comes from just aging or the relationship he has with his fiancee we don’t know. But he seems like a different guy in a good way. . . . He’s in no rush to go anywhere anymore.”
No matter the source of Ovechkin’s adjusted approach, it may be an important change for the Capitals as a whole.
“He’s obviously an outstanding player and any improvements he can make in his life or his game are certainly welcome for us,” McPhee added, “Because we’ll only go as far as he can take us.”
Happiness at home
Those close to Ovechkin believe his relationship with Kirilenko, who is ranked 15th in the world by the Women’s Tennis Association, has been a positive influence on the ebullient superstar. The two met at the 2011 U.S. Open, and there was an instant connection, Ovechkin said.
She visited him in Washington multiple times last season, and once the Capitals were eliminated from the playoffs, Ovechkin traveled with Kirilenko and her father, who is also her coach, to Wimbledon and the London Olympics. He brought his personal trainer along as well, so he could prepare for the new NHL season.