Ovechkin sets bar high for Capitals
The two-time league MVP and the Capitals reported for preseason camp, eager to erase the memories of a second-round loss in last spring's playoffs to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
"On top. On top of Pittsburgh, on top of everybody," Ovechkin said, when asked where he expected the Capitals to finish the 2009-10 season.
Piloting a Zamboni down a New York City street and promoting an NHL-themed video game in Toronto -- Ovechkin's pursuits en route to Kettler Capitals Iceplex, where he took a physical and renewed acquaintances with teammates -- were merely diversions before the hard work begins.
"It's time for us, I think," said Ovechkin, parroting the slogan worn on teammates' T-shirts emblazoned with the Stanley Cup. "The organization, the guys understand that if we make the playoffs, it's not [enough]. Now we have to move forward."
Despite scoring an NHL-high 56 goals last season, Ovechkin figures there's room for improvement -- starting with himself -- if the Capitals are to attain that goal.
"This year, I want to be better," he said.
The prospect of having an elite player step up his game and demanding that his teammates follow his example is intriguing to coach Bruce Boudreau.
"Improve? If he improves, great," Boudreau said. "We'll take what he did last year and run with it. But I'm sure Alex wants to improve every time he steps on the ice. I'm sure this year's no different."
Three months in his native Russia must have been spent in the weight room, given the muscled shoulders hidden beneath Ovechkin's gray T-shirt bearing the slogan "Get Ready It's Our Time."
"Yeah, I take some injections," Ovechkin smiled.
A few minutes later, Ovechkin was on the ice, taking part in an unscheduled skate with teammate Alexander Semin, delighting a few dozen fans in attendance.
The Capitals tweaked their offense this summer by adding right wing Mike Knuble and center Brendan Morrison as free agents. Knuble is a net-crasher that makes opposing goalies pay for not gobbling up shots, while Morrison adds a veteran presence to replace Sergei Fedorov, who departed for the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia.
Boudreau has 68 players in camp, but thinks the two-time defending Southeast Division champions may have only one open forward position. On defense, Washington will pare a group of 10 or 11 candidates down to six or seven players who will make the roster for the Oct. 1 opener at Boston.
Jose Theodore, who was yanked in favor of rookie Semyon Varlamov after one game in the first round of the playoffs, has been anointed the No. 1 goalie by Boudreau. But Theodore will have to stave off challenges from Varlamov and fellow rookie Michal Neuvirth.
Ovechkin isn't the only one pumped up over the Capitals' prospects.
"We're progressing," said general manager George McPhee. "We've had two really good seasons. Last year was better than the year before and we're hoping this year will be even better."
Added defenseman Mike Green: "Our expectation is to win the cup this year, and that's the bottom line. We're all experienced now, we're all old enough. With a few additions this year, I think we're ready."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press