Alex Ovechkin’s 30th birthday Thursday included a video-chat appearance on a Russian news show, where the host brought out a sheep on a leash dressed in a hockey jersey. Ovechkin laughed and grinned as the sheep pulled the host in high heels from one corner of the set to the other. The joke was aimed at Ovechkin’s last name, a part of which means “sheep” in Russian.
Pressed to name the sheep, he called it “Russia” and said it would live at his parents’ country house. He had physical testing at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, and that night, he dined out with friends, then — with the first day of training camp looming Friday — he went to bed early.
Outside of the unusual present from Moscow, this birthday wasn’t all that different from any other. But it served as a reminder of how long he’s been in the NHL (10 years and counting), what he has yet to accomplish (winning a Stanley Cup) — and that he’s getting older.
“It’s another birthday, so next year it’s going to be 31,” Ovechkin said with a shrug.
Last season, his first under Coach Barry Trotz, Ovechkin had what many considered one of his best campaigns, as he netted 53 goals, his highest total since 2008-09, and finished the regular season with 81 points, fourth best in the league. It was the second straight year in which Ovechkin had eclipsed 50 goals in a season, and his sixth time overall.
“I feel like a lot of us are just scratching to get to 20 every year, and he’s working his way up to 50,” winger T.J. Oshie said.
Center Nicklas Backstrom said Ovechkin is still the same as when he first met him, to which Ovechkin joked that he’s still 21. But with age have come some changes, such as getting engaged this offseason. As the seasons and the birthdays have ticked by, one thing has remained constant: The Capitals have never made it past the second round of the playoffs during his time in Washington.
“I feel like a real veteran right now,” Ovechkin said. “We have to do some big things right now because for 10 years, obviously, it’s always been the same thing.”
The additions of right wingers Oshie and Justin Williams, as well as the development of young forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky■, bring optimism for getting past that hump this season. Ovechkin has spoken before about how the team has the potential for a deep playoff run, but now, he said, “It’s time for not talking, but we have to do it.”
His painful postseason history is enough motivation for a sense of urgency to change the Capitals’ playoff narrative. Trotz said Ovechkin was “very easy to coach” last year, quickly seeing the value in what Trotz preached. The first day of training camp, with intense on-ice testing, was still exhausting, but he and his teammates now at least have the benefit of already knowing Trotz’s system.
“The biggest thing with Alex is getting him to win a championship,” Trotz said. “It’s all-in, and it’s important that we get that done. I want to do it with him and the group of guys we have in that room quickly.”
That would be Ovechkin’s preference, too. During his appearance on Russian TV, one of the hosts cut a piece of the sheep’s wool as Ovechkin made a birthday wish for himself to have the best of everything.
Meanwhile, Backstrom said his birthday gift to Ovechkin might be some shaving cream — for the hirsute former Gillette spokesman, not his new pet.