Amid all of the cathartic carousing that Alex Ovechkin did after lastly main the Washington Capitals to a Stanley Cup was this indisputable fact: that point marches on steadily (or a minimum of steadier than anybody marched in that gloriously festive victory parade in June).

Ovechkin would change into a father in August. Ovechkin would flip 33 years outdated in September. Ovechkin would enter his 14th NHL season having performed 1,003 regular-season video games and 121 extra within the postseason.

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The nice gamers are cognizant of this truth. They’re conscious of the work that has to go into sustaining a stage of excellence. They perceive that their video games have to always enhance, change and modulate in ways in which preserve them from changing into a nostalgia act opening for the subsequent era of stars.

Ovechkin is an important participant, and this season he has been something however a famous person resting on his accomplishments (which embrace an look on ESPN The Journal’s Dominant 20 listing).

In truth, there hasn’t been a lot relaxation in any respect for Ovechkin.

“I really feel fairly good,” Ovechkin mentioned just lately about his ice time, which is up practically a minute per sport on common (21:02 by means of 29 video games) over final season. “Whenever you’re in a sport, when you have got a number of ice time, you’re feeling a lot better. You’ll be able to ask anyone. You’d quite have 20 minutes an evening than 10 minutes.”

The rise in ice time has been partially out of necessity, because the Capitals noticed accidents (Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie) and suspensions (Tom Wilson) to their prime six forwards within the first two months of the season. Nevertheless it’s additionally indicative of Ovechkin’s sturdiness, because the Russian Machine hasn’t performed fewer than 78 video games in a full season since 2009-10. (Within the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, he performed all 48 video games.)

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“Some nights it drops a little bit bit,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden mentioned. “Generally the video games do not play out that approach. Another video games, he is going rather well, and I would like to get him again on the market. When he is taking part in extra usually and engaged, he does a greater job.”

Few can do the job like Ovechkin when it comes to offensive output. He has 22 targets in 29 video games, which leads the NHL. His 36 factors have him tied for ninth total, a complete fueled by an 11-game level streak that noticed the Capitals win 9 of them.

That is what we anticipate from Ovechkin. Reirden, who took over the group after Barry Trotz resigned final summer time, anticipated extra. So he put Ovechkin again into a job he was counted on to play in his youthful days: on the ice when the opposing web is empty, taking part in protection but in addition eyeing the prospect for a back-breaking objective the opposite approach.

In 82 video games final season, Ovechkin had three empty-netters. He has three already this season.

“The final couple of years, I did not have some alternatives to play [five-on-six],” Ovechkin mentioned. “We now have the blokes that may be in that place. You employ your alternative. When you’ve got the prospect, you employ it.”

Reirden mentioned it is about having a star participant earn his potentialities identical to everybody else.

“I do know in recent times, he wasn’t utilized in many five-on-six conditions,” mentioned Reirden, whose group has given up just one objective at five-on-six this season. “I am placing him in these conditions on the finish of video games once we’re forward, getting him just a few additional minutes, which had not been the case. Placing extra defensive duty on him.

He is earned his alternatives to be on the market when the opposite groups pulled their goalie. To me, it comes again to alternative [for all players]. It is not simply alternatives for younger guys.”

These younger guys do get their possibilities within the NHL, they usually’re burying them with frequency.

Of the 5 gamers proper behind Ovechkin within the goal-scoring race, 4 of them are 23 years outdated or youthful. (The opposite one, Jeff Skinner of the Buffalo Sabres, is 26.) The highest seven level scorers within the NHL are 25 and youthful.

Patrik Laine fashions his sport after childhood idol Alex Ovechkin, and he is chasing him within the goal-scoring race once more this season. Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports activities

Maybe the youth motion is a part of the motivation for Ovechkin, one season after lastly slaying the dragon or kicking the monkey off his again or, actually, whichever cliché one desires to apply to lastly hoisting that trophy above his head for the primary time.

He appears over at a participant similar to Patrik Laine, scoring the identical laserlike targets he scores; or at Connor McDavid, redefining the velocity with which one performs offensively on this league; or Auston Matthews, whose goals-per-games-played ratio is astonishing. He is aware of there are a dozen younger fingers attempting to seize his Rocket Richard Trophy away. He is clutching it tighter.

“I am impressed, clearly. They do an excellent job, all of these guys. That is why I’ve to be in form,” Ovechkin mentioned, exhaling after apply on Monday. “These guys can catch you anytime.”

The Capitals are atop the Metropolitan Division with 37 factors, which means that it is one other typical common season for a franchise with eight division titles since 2008. They’re churning together with a coach who was on the bench final season as an assistant. It is just about the identical roster, too. No large fall-off from the Cup win.

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“I feel it feels the identical, actually. Whether or not that is good or unhealthy, it feels the identical,” defenseman John Carlson mentioned.

In some methods, Ovechkin is the identical, too. In different methods, he is not. He is older. Maybe a bit wiser. Maybe a bit extra assured, if that have been attainable. A bit extra decided, if that have been additionally attainable.

“He got here into camp in exceptional form,” Reirden mentioned. “Lighter than he is ever been. He is come prepared to play and carry out. He loves the video games. He is a really aggressive man. He is been in a great rhythm. For me, it is a number of the greatest distributing of the puck I’ve seen him do. And his goal-scoring is proper on the prime, the place it at all times is. His sport continues to spherical out.”

Reirden paused for a second of contemplation. “It is loopy whenever you say that about somebody that is performed within the league for this lengthy, however there are still modifications happening in his sport,” he mentioned. “That is thrilling, and a bunch of enjoyable to work with as a coach.”

Even at 33 years outdated, and even after the best accomplishment of his life as a hockey participant, the Russian Machine is a transformer.

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