ARLINGTON, V.A. — Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin stands at the podium on yet another tough locker cleanout day, which comes after a first-round elimination for the fourth straight year.
As the Great 8 mulls over another early exit, he takes the time to reflect on the positives and negatives from a memorable 2021-22 campaign that had a little bit of everything, from milestones to adversity. And looking at the end result, he admits that it’s tough to pack up and leave with the postseason just getting started.
“Every year, you fight for playoffs and then you fight for the Cup. We’re not getting any younger. It’s hard,” Ovechkin noted. “It’s a hard time right now, but nothing you can do right now. All you can do is just get better for next year and try to win next year.”
At the age of 36, Ovechkin is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. He started the year sixth on the NHL’s all-time goals list, and with his record-tying ninth 50-goal season, climbed to third all-time and passed Jaromir Jagr as the highest-scoring European in NHL history. In the big picture, Ovechkin is 20 goals shy of 800, 22 shy of passing Gordie Howe and 115 shy of breaking Wayne Gretzky’s all-time record. He also dished 40 assists to reach the 90-point mark for the first time in over a decade.
READ MORE ON WHN: Backstrom Faces Tough Decisions With Capitals Amid Lingering Hip Issues
When it comes to keeping that pace up as he approaches the age of 40, Ovechkin said that it all comes with preparation and training the right way, and he’ll look to maintain that consistency going forward.
“Every year, the game has changed. Every year, you have to be physically ready, mentally ready. I think if you take previous years, you don’t know what to expect from the season because of COVID and all that stuff,” Ovechkin said. “But I think right now, you know how to be prepared for a full year. Right now, it’s time to get a rest, finally to see family and go back home and take a rest and get ready for next year.”
Ovechkin will not only take the offseason to train and regroup but also recover from a shoulder injury he suffered late in the season. It’s nothing serious that required surgery, but it was something that affected him in the playoffs. Still, he put up six points in six playoff games and managed to dish 30 hits.
“It’s obviously not a secret that I hit the boards and hit my shoulder,” Ovechkin said. “But in the playoffs, I don’t think it matters. If it hurts, you have some injections to do, and you have some magic pills… if it was in playoffs, Game 1, I was ready to play. Obviously, we did some things to help it out and I was fine.”
“I think Alex was getting there; it was never an issue that we talked about,” head coach Peter Laviolette said of Ovechkin. “But there was definitely a problem that happened. He played through it. He had to get work done to play through it. But then in the first minute of the game, he went and tried to run somebody into next week. And so he tried to play his game… I thought he worked. He was engaged, he was physical, he made nice plays, nice passes and set things up for us.”
Ovechkin will not require surgery in the offseason and will return home to Moscow to be with his wife and kids, whom he has not seen in months. He knows the summer won’t be easy as he puts in training and the team evaluates its next steps after four straight first-round exits, but he is confident in the core going forward.
“I think the experience we have, it helps. Like I always say, it’s not my job to decide who is going to stay, who is going to be out. But this group of guys is tremendous. Unbelievable atmosphere in the locker room,” Ovechkin said, adding, “But I’m pretty sure there’s going to be hard decisions. A hard summer for us, but it is what it is. I’m pretty sure I want to win. You guys want not to have a season like that and the fans. So we’ll see what’s going to happen.”