“It looks like he’s in the best mode ever,” Backstrom said. “He’s just laughing all the time, which is great. He’s going to carry this over, I think. The way he was playing last year and the way he was relaxed, too, I think it’s just unbelievable for us in the locker room to see -- how he carries himself.”
Ovechkin was already going to be considered one of the NHL’s all-time greats, but to go along with stunning individual success -- he has finished with the most goals in the league seven times and has won the Hart Trophy as the most valuable player three times -- Ovechkin now has a Stanley Cup on his resume to cement his legacy. At 33 years old, he has achieved everything there is on professional hockey’s biggest stage, and his personal life has never been better either. He and his wife, Nastya, welcomed their first child in August.
So what motivates Ovechkin now? Being labeled a perennial loser as the Capitals repeatedly failed to advance past the second round of the playoffs used to fuel him. But it’s the relief from finally shedding that stigma that has freed Ovechkin for the future.
“As soon as you win the Cup, you don’t want to lose that feeling,” Ovechkin said. “You want to win more than one. As soon as you taste it, it’s kind of like a really good restaurant. You go there once, and you want to come back more than once because it’s great.”
With the Ovechkins’ son due in August and training camp scheduled to start in mid-September, the couple decided to have the baby in Miami, where they have a condo. T.J. Oshie said his wife would occasionally show him the Instagram videos of Ovechkin working out as he waited for his wife to give birth. There was one of him running along the beach. Then of him kayaking in the Atlantic. In another, he flipped giant truck tires. He was spotted logging some ice time at the Florida Panthers’ practice facility.
Ovechkin said this preseason he merely maintained his weight and body fat percentage from last year, when Washington brass made a point of challenging him to arrive at training camp trimmer. After a 2016-17 campaign that was statistically one of his worst, he dropped four pounds and rebounded with 49 goals and 38 assists in 82 games last season. But after all of the Capitals’ celebratory summers got off to boozy, hard-partying starts, Ovechkin’s continued commitment to his fitness made a statement.
“He’s lighter than he was last year, and that’s something that I didn’t anticipate -- him or many of our other veteran guys coming in the condition that they did,” Coach Todd Reirden said. “He’s come ready to back up last season, and I think it was his best year of his life. And he’d like to keep doing that.”
It’s not often everything comes together so poetically -- that the same year Ovechkin celebrated 1,000 games played in the NHL and scored his 600th goal, he also won the Stanley Cup and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason’s best player. He scored goals while also blocking shots and putting himself in the right defensive position -- things he had been criticized for not doing throughout his career.
And then after all of that maturity manifested itself on the ice, he grew more off it. Sergei Aleksandrovich Ovechkin arrived Aug. 18, an American citizen as well as a Russian one. Ovechkin said the boy looks more like him -- “He’s cute,” he said -- but if he and his wife have a girl next, he is hopeful she will look more like Nastya.
“All of these different things in your mind come up, but as soon as you see his eyes and touch the hands, it’s something special,” he said.
Ovechkin still has three years left on his contract with the Capitals; he will be 35 when it ends. His trademark shot has helped him defy age with his elite production, and it should continue to do so. At the very least, he can stay a power-play weapon, and he has proved to be durable, never missing more than 10 games in a season. Perhaps he can play long enough in the NHL that his son will remember watching him try to chase down Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record of 894. (Ovechkin is 19th on the list with 607.)
“The most important thing is I want to be healthy,” Ovechkin said. “I want to play with him when he’s going to be 10 or 12. And I want to see how he grow; that’s the most important thing for me. Of course, it’s not going to be only one kid.”
Said General Manager Brian MacLellan: “He’s an elite player, and from now on, it’s just where does he end up at the end. How high does he end up? For him, the fun of winning a championship, that’s what’s going to motivate him going forward. I think he really, sincerely wants to do it again because he enjoyed it so much.”
The Capitals returned 18 of the 20 players who dressed in the Stanley Cup finals with the intention of making another run at the trophy, and less than three weeks after Sergei was born, Ovechkin was back in Washington to join some of his teammates for informal skates before training camp. Nastya posted videos on Instagram of him pushing a stroller around their Northern Virginia neighborhood. On Sept. 17, the family went to Peking Gourmet Inn for a low-key celebration of Ovechkin’s birthday.
He has been the picture of “settled down” off the ice, and he has sensed a certain peace in it, too. Ovechkin said he doesn’t feel the same kind of pressure going into this season. “Sometimes when you’re waiting for so long, you know that maybe you’re never going to get a chance to get close," he said. He is not bogged down with lament over what went wrong the season before, or this year’s outlook. Instead he is more self-assured than he has ever been.
“Nobody is going to say this guy or this organization can’t win because they have to change something,” Ovechkin said. “We don’t have to change anything. We create our own destiny. We create our legacy in here.”
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