Thursday, September 13, 2007
When Alex Ovechkin arrived yesterday morning for his first informal practice of the summer at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, the Washington Capitals' all-star left wing said he took a quick glance around the locker room. Then he smiled.
Ovechkin was looking at his supporting cast: center Michael Nylander, defenseman Tom Poti and forward Viktor Kozlov, the Capitals' key free agent additions this offseason.
"I'm hungry for hockey," said Ovechkin, who turns 22 on Monday. "I can't wait until the season starts. We have a stronger team right now. I can feel it in the locker room. This atmosphere . . . everyone is happier, everyone is hungry."
Ovechkin says he's in the best shape of his career, having spent less time vacationing and more time on the ice and lifting weights this summer.
After his production dipped from 52 goals and 106 points as a rookie to 46 goals and 92 points last season, Ovechkin rededicated himself with a rigorous training routine. The Moscow native spent six weeks skating and working out in St. Petersburg with Kozlov, Alexander Radulov, Sergei Gonchar, Alexander Semin and Evgeni Malkin, and three weeks practicing with Dynamo Moscow, his former Russian Super League team.
"I'm in better condition," said Ovechkin, who was listed as 6 feet 2 and 220 pounds last season but appeared slightly lighter yesterday. "I skate over there with my friends. My shape right now is probably 70 percent."
So what was his percentage last September? "About 10 percent," he said with a smile.
Ovechkin didn't skate on a line yesterday with Nylander, his presumed center on the first line. Instead, they skated on opposing teams during the hour-long informal practice. However, the two players did spend plenty of time getting to know each other before the session.
"I met him for first time today," Ovechkin said. "Michael Nylander, everyone know what he can do. He will be one of our leaders. We were on different teams today, but I tell him my story, talk to him about my summer. He tell me about himself and his summer. We are learning about each other." . . .
Despite goals from Patrick McNeill, Nicklas Backstrom and Mathieu Perreault, the Capitals' rookies fell, 5-3, to Philadelphia's rookies in front of a standing-room-only crowd of about 500 at the Flyers' practice facility in Voorhees, N.J. Four of the Flyers' goals came on the power play.
-- Tarik El-Bashir