A slimmer, trimmer-looking Alex Ovechkin is back on the ice for summer workouts more than two weeks before the start of training camp.
The Russian superstar skated in an informal practice with Washington Capitals teammates on Tuesday and looked lighter than his playing weight of 239 pounds last season. If that’s indeed the case, Ovechkin took to heart the challenge from general manager Brian MacLellan to train differently and add more speed to his game as he’s about to turn 32.
A team spokesman said Ovechkin would not speak to reporters until the first day of training camp in September. But his teammates certainly notice a change in Ovechkin’s physique.
“You can see he lost some weight,” center Evgeny Kuznetsov said. “Every year you’re trying to be better. You change something in the summer. Ovi’s like other guys, too — he wants to change something, right? It’s always nice to see when your teammates get better. They change. They try something new.”
Ovechkin is already trying something new by getting to the D.C. area in late August, which is earlier than usual for captain and 13-year pro. Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and fellow Russian Dmitry Orlov all flew back together, joining goaltender Philipp Grubauer and others.
The early arrivals are no coincidence after the Capitals ended the past season with a loss again in the second round to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
“After we lost to Pittsburgh, a lot of negative things [were said] about our team, about him,” Orlov said. “Everybody said, ‘The Caps cannot do anything, blah, blah, blah.’ So everybody understands and everybody wants to show we can do everything. … He wants to be where he’s always been, one of the superstars in the league and he wants to work hard and show everybody who he is.”
Ovechkin leads all players with 558 goals since entering the NHL in 2005-06, 176 more than Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. While Crosby led the league with 44 goals, Ovechkin’s 33 goals last year were his fewest in a non-lockout season since 2010-11 as he saw the lowest ice time of his career.
By the end of the Pittsburgh series, coach Barry Trotz had moved him down to the third line, and Ovechkin finished the playoffs with five goals and three assists in 13 games as he battled knee and hamstring injuries.
Trotz said after the Capitals were eliminated that Ovechkin’s “still got game.” MacLellan said Ovechkin had to adjust his game to stay relevant as he gets older.
“He’s going to have to think of ways he can evolve into a player that still has a major impact on the game,” MacLellan said after last season. “The game’s getting faster. He’s going to have to train in a different way — a more speed way instead of a power way.”
Ovechkin appears to have done that, which sends a message to teammates after an offseason of change. The Capitals lost defensemen Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk and right winger Justin Williams in free agency, and traded away forward Marcus Johansson in a salary-cap crunch.
“It’s always good when you see the guys who are 30 or more years — they know they have to practice hard,” said Kuznetsov, who signed a $62.4 million, eight-year contract that makes him the second-highest-paid player on the team behind Ovechkin. “For me, when you get a couple more kilograms, it’s a couple practices. But for older guys that takes like five, six days. That’s tough. That’s why the older guys have to work more and more and more.”
Jetlag and a lack of sleep aside, Kuznetsov and Orlov think Ovechkin did work more and that it shows.
“He’s going to be good,” Orlov said. “He’s a professional, and he worked hard this summer so he can prepare for the season and I think he’s going to be good.”