ARLINGTON, Va. — Alex Ovechkin began his 18th NHL training camp Thursday not focused on the 21 goals he needs to score to catch Gordie Howe for second in NHL history, but thinking more about the number of chances he has left to win the Stanley Cup again with the Washington Capitals.
“I’m at the age that personal goals are nice, but we understand every year [you get closer] to the end of your career,” the 37-year-old forward said. “So I just want to win. I want to be in the playoffs and fight for the Cup.”
The Capitals have qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for eight straight seasons and 14 of the past 15 but haven’t won a postseason series since winning the Stanley Cup in 2018. Washington lost to the Florida Panthers in six games in the Eastern Conference First Round last season, ending a history-making campaign when Ovechkin tied the NHL record with his ninth 50-goal season and moved ahead of Marcel Dionne (731), Brett Hull (741) and Jaromir Jagr (766) to climb from seventh to third on the League goals list with 780 behind Wayne Gretzky (894) and Howe (801).
So, though pursuing Howe will be a significant storyline for Ovechkin this season, it’s understandable that his mind is on other things. That begins with helping the Capitals get off to a good start to the regular season with forward Nicklas Backstrom (left hip resurfacing surgery) out indefinitely and forward Tom Wilson (torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee) sidelined until at least December.
“The most important thing is everybody has to be healthy, and we have to make the playoffs,” Ovechkin said. “That first 20 games is very important so you have to [earn] points, so if you’re going to have some ups and downs during the season you still have those points. … You don’t want to play only six months. You want to play eight months and play for the Cup.”
Ovechkin played a big role in the Capitals going 17-5-6 while Backstrom missed the first 28 games last season because of his hip. He had 44 points (20 goals, 24 assists) during that span on his way to finishing with 90 points (50 goals, 40 assists), his most since he had 109 in 2009-10.
Although Ovechkin is a year older, Washington will need similar production from him this season.
“I wouldn’t be against him,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “I think he has a strong will and I think he knows what he wants to do and accomplish, and usually when he’s in that mood he accomplishes what he wants to get done.”
After spending the summer in his native Russia working with his personal trainer Pavel Burlachenko, Ovechkin reported for training camp in prime condition to make a run at his 10th 50-goal season, which would break the NHL record he shares with Gretzky and Mike Bossy.
“He looks great,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “You wouldn’t know the difference from when I got here [in 2020] and the way he looked now. The skate test today, he knocks it out of the park and comes into camp in great shape. Watching the way he started last year he was on fire. That is just a credit to him and the way he trains and what he puts into it and how much this means to him.”
Ovechkin said he and Burlachenko tinkered with his offseason training program a little this summer but didn’t change much.
“Obviously, every year we try to do something different, something more,” he said. “But right now, I’m pretty happy what my shape is.”
Ovechkin is optimistic about the Capitals’ chances after a busy offseason when they signed Darcy Kuemper to a five-year, $26.25 million contract to be their No. 1 goalie and added forwards Connor Brown (trade with the Ottawa Senators) and Dylan Strome (signed one-year, $3.5 million contract) to help fill the void created by Backstrom’s and Wilson’s injuries.
“We can’t look forward much,” Ovechkin said. “Today we finished our skating test. That’s a good thing. Tomorrow is going to be a hard practice, so we’ll start from there.”
After playing against Ovechkin for 10 NHL seasons, Kuemper is looking forward to playing with him and having a front-row seat while he chases down Howe and then Gretzky’s record. Ovechkin has four-seasons left on the five-year, $47.5 million contract he signed last summer.
“It’s going to be so fun to be a part of that and kind of watch history unfold,” Kuemper said. “Kind of just the side story throughout all the seasons and watching him chase down history is going to be fun to be a part of.”
Defenseman John Carlson has grown used to Ovechkin reaching milestones during his 13 seasons as his teammate, but acknowledged that catching Howe, who held the NHL goal record until Gretzky broke it 1994, would be different.
“It’s one thing to lead the league in scoring year after year, but now it’s like we’re talking real stuff now,” Carlson said. “So, on the one hand, I’m kind of blind and numb to just how high on that list he’s gone and how tangible it is. It just seems like during the season that it’s one thing after the next. Every day it’s something .”
For now, though, Ovechkin is putting aside his thoughts about Howe and the 21 goals he needs to tie him.
“Let’s wait,” he said. “I can’t score 21 goals in one game. I can’t, so let’s wait.”