Alex Ovechkin talks about his DVD “Alex Ovechkin: The Gr8”

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It’s safe to say that Alex Ovechkin is a big star. Understatement of the year, we know. Not too many players get a DVD dedicated to them done up by the NHL by Ovechkin’s got one out now titled “Alex Ovechkin: The Gr8” that looks at the Alex Ovechkin you don’t know. The guy who, behind the scenes, is still living the life of a superstar athlete but has a family system back home that’s as strong and dedicated as Ovechkin is to the Capitals.

In talking with Ovechkin about the DVD, he felt it was important to show the influence his home and family has on him.

“It was important to show my family. It was important for them to be in there. They’re a big part of my life. It’s important for other Russian players to see. ”

In meeting Alex’s mother and father on the DVD, you see what a bond they’ve got. His father Mikhail and mother Tatyana are tremendous influences on his life. His mother, as you may already know, was a star basketball player for the Soviet Union winning gold medals in the Olympics. His father grew up a soccer player. I asked Alex about whether his mother’s status as a national basketball hero helped him prepare for life as a superstar.

“Oh sure, my mother was very important but my father did so much for me,” Ovechkin says. “He was there at every practice, he took me to every game. Dad was with me everywhere growing up. Without him I don’t know where I’d be.”

If it wasn’t for your parents and hockey, what would you be doing?

“Oh I don’t even know. I don’t even think about that at all. I’m happy to be here now.”

Seeing Alex interact with his family and friends on the DVD made for a great treat to see. Let’s face it, for as big of a star as Ovechkin is here in America, we really don’t know a whole lot about the guy. We’ve seen plenty of things in GQ Magazine and elsewhere that portrays Ovechkin as a cocky kid living the life as a high-flying playboy. Fast cars, fast women and the like. Seeing a more grounded version of Alex Ovechkin back in Russia made for a more natural setting for a guy who’s one of the biggest stars in the world.

You see Alex showing off where he grew up, the apartment he lived as a kid. You meet his friends and hell, you even see him take his pals to McDonald’s. See, he’s a pretty regular guy even when ordering a Royale with cheese. No,  Jules from “Pulp Fiction” was there to witness it.

As for hockey, Alex’s day job, the first scenes you see on the DVD are of the Capitals collapse and failure against the Montreal Canadiens in last year’s playoffs. If you don’t think that’s motivation for Alex, you’re kidding yourself.

“That was a pretty hard time for us,” Ovechkin said. “We’re really disappointed with how things ended last year. Now we’re just excited to get back to the playoffs and show that we can do better and try to win the Cup.”

Things aren’t all serious business though for Alex Ovechkin. He loves his life, he loves his sports cars (“I don’t know which one I’m getting next. I’ll let you know when I pick one,” he tells me) , he loves just having fun. You see it out of him on the ice, and in virtually every piece of video on this DVD you see it from him off the ice as well.

One famous clip shows when Ovechkin was presented with the key to the city in Washington, D.C. and when greeted with a huge crowd he says, “Today is a big day. I have a key for the city. And I’m the president this day in the city, so everybody have fun—and no speed limit.” He’s a rock star and at 25 years-old, who can blame the guy for hamming things up at all ever.

You don’t usually get to see such an enjoyable and thoughtful introspective into a guy like this who’s arguably the biggest star in his sport and find out what makes him tick and where he’s come from. Sure if you’re not a Capitals fan or not an Ovechkin fan you may not be interested in what this video’s got to offer, but if you’re a hockey fan and you’re looking to find out what makes a big star tick, this is about as good as it gets. From the love he’s got for his team, the love he’s got for his family (and vice versa) it’s a wonderful thing to see. I’d recommend checking this out if you’ve got the time and the interest in seeing what makes Alex so great.

Quick hits with Ovi

Random things I got to find out when talking with Alex Ovechkin in quick hit fashion. Some of these things you might know already, some you might not, others likely won’t surprise you at all.

Favorite place to be in D.C.: “Verizon Center. It’s like home.”

Thoughts on countryman Evgeni Malkin: “We’re buddies. We’re teammates when we play for Russia, but we like to beat each other. It’s part of the fun.”

Thoughts on how he and Alex Semin are doing this year: “He’s great. We’re playing very well but we can get better.”

Favorite city to be in aside from Washington: “Montreal. It’s a great place to be. I love the people, I love the excitement. It’s a fun place to be.”

Least favorite city to be in: “Buffalo. It’s just tough there.”

Reason for wearing #8: “It was my mother’s number in basketball.”

It all comes back to family.

For Penguins’ defense, it’s been a group effort to replace Letang

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PITTSBURGH (AP) The handful of men who carry out the most thankless of tasks for the Pittsburgh Penguins are a rag-tag group thrown together by circumstance and a touch of foresight by general manager Jim Rutherford.

They are largely anonymous and blissfully so, only too happy to work in the considerable shadows created by the stars who play in front of them and their unquestioned leader, the one forced to watch the franchise’s run to a second straight Stanley Cup Final in immaculately tailored suits from the press box while he recovers from neck surgery.

When defenseman Kris Letang‘s star-crossed season ended for good in early April when he abandoned any hope of a comeback from the injuries that limited him to just 40 games this season, the chances of the Penguins becoming the first team to win back-to-back titles was supposed to vanish along with him.

Yet here they are hosting Nashville in Game 1 on Monday night, four wins away from a repeat that seemed improbable seven weeks ago. And they’ve done it with a group of blue liners who lack Letang’s unique talents or the undeniable dynamic charisma of the defensemen like P.K. Subban who have helped power the Predators’ dominant sprint to the final.

“That’s fine with us,” said Brian Dumoulin, who leads the Penguins in ice time during the postseason. “They’re great players and stuff like that. No chip on our shoulder. We know who we are as a D core.”

They might be one of the few. A quick introduction.

There’s well-traveled Ron Hainsey, the 36-year-old who needed to wait a record 907 games before reaching the postseason for the first time in his 14-year career.

There’s Trevor Daley and Olli Maatta, the battle-tested veteran and the baby-faced kid from Finland, both of whom spent significant chunks of time on the injured reserve this season only to develop an unquantifiable chemistry during the playoffs.

There’s Dumoulin, who has become Pittsburgh’s new iron man with Letang out. There’s Ian Cole, the thoughtful well-bearded conscience who revels in the more physical aspects of his job.

There’s 39-year-old Mark Streit, who like Hainsey was brought in as insurance at the trade deadline then spent six weeks as a healthy scratch only to fill in capably when another spate of injuries struck in the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa.

Mostly, however, there’s Justin Schultz. Considered a disappointment during three-plus underwhelming seasons in Edmonton, Schultz has spent 15 months in Pittsburgh remodeling his game.

It’s Schultz who has taken over as the quarterback on the Penguins’ potent power play. It’s Schultz who has found a knack for the big moment. He delivered the winning goal in Game 4 of the second round against Washington. He put the Penguins ahead in the third period of Game 7 against Ottawa and ended up with the secondary assist on Chris Kunitz‘s knuckler that finally put away the Senators in double overtime.

Schultz is reluctant to talk about his transformation or the upper-body injury that sidelined him for four games during the Ottawa series. He returned for the decider to play more than 24 minutes, gritting his teeth all the way through.

When asked if the injury limited his ability to get off the shot that became his third goal of the postseason, Schultz responded with typical modesty.

“Not full but like I said, those guys did such a good job screening … it didn’t have to be the hardest shot to get through,” said Schultz, who set a career -high with 51 points during the regular season and has added another 10 in the playoffs.

Schultz, however, could always shoot. That’s never been the problem. It’s at the other end of the ice where he’s truly matured and likely made him one of the most coveted free agents to be in the process.

The defenseman who never had any trouble jumping into the play has not become adept at thwarting them too.

“He’s always had ability to excel on the offensive side,” said Penguins assistant Jacques Martin, who coaches the defense. “He’s got tremendous vision. He’s been able to replace Kris on the power play. The area (of growth) that’s most noticeable has been his defensive side … his positioning. He’s improved his compete level, his use of his stick, his position. All areas he’s grown in over the season.”

The Penguins have needed every last ounce of it as they have from the rest of their defensemen who has spent the last four months trying to replace the seemingly irreplaceable Letang.

It’s been a group effort. More than once Pittsburgh has been forced to go long stretches in games with only five defensemen because one of them went down. When Shultz left Game 2 against the Senators, Dumoulin played 26 minutes, Hainsey nearly 25 and Maatta 22. The Penguins survived 1-0 to even the series.

“If you look at last year in playoffs it was Kris Letang and then the rest of us,” Dumoulin said. “That’s not the case right now. Obviously whatever role that you’re asked to do, whatever opportunity is there, you’re going to do it. We’re not going to be the offensive guy Kris Letang was. Nobody is going to be in that aspect.”

The object is to make sure it doesn’t matter. So far, it hasn’t.

“I think we have a group back there that cares about each other, that are really playing within their limitations,” Martin said. “I think that’s the key.”

Related: Penguins’ run to Stanley Cup Final filled with challenges

 

Bobby Ryan doesn’t seem too concerned about being taken in the expansion draft

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The Ottawa Senators had their final meeting with the media for the 2016-17 season on Saturday following their disappointing Game 7 loss in the Eastern Conference Finals.

One of the more entertaining moments came during Bobby Ryan‘s scrum when he was asked if he has given any thought to potentially being taken in the expansion draft by the Vegas Golden Knights.

Ryan quickly responded by saying “No,” before laughing and saying “are they going to take $7 million?” He continued to laugh, saying, “I think I’m good.”

The $7 million comment is obviously in reference to his contract that still has five years remaining on it and carries a cap hit of $7.25 million the rest of the way.

The thing is, though, Vegas would almost certainly take a $7 million player if they felt they were going to get $7 million worth of production along with it. Especially since the team has an obligation to take on a certain amount of money in the expansion draft and reach the NHL’s salary floor. Ryan had a down year for the Senators, recording only 25 points in 62 games during the regular season, by far the worst offensive season of his career. He did salvage the year in the playoffs, however, by bouncing back with 15 points in the Senators’ 19 playoff games during their run to the Eastern Conference Finals. Three of his six goals in the playoffs were game-winners, including an overtime goal in Game 1 of the series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

That said, Ryan is probably correct that Vegas will not be taking him, if for no other reason than his age (he turns 31 next March) and the fact his contract has so many years remaining on it.

The expansion draft will take place on Wednesday, June 21, and every team in the league will lose one player to the NHL’s newest team.

Wild GM is hopeful prized prospect Kirill Kaprizov will join Minny for 2018-19 season

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With rumors on social media suggesting prized Wild prospect Kirill Kaprizov has agreed to terms on a long-term deal in the KHL, Minnesota’s general manager Chuck Fletcher has decided to clear the air.

The Wild selected Kaprizov, a five-foot-nine-inch tall forward, in the fifth round of the 2015 NHL Draft.

He had 42 points in 49 regular season games in the KHL this year — promising, if not impressive numbers for the now 20-year-old Kaprizov. He also lit up the 2017 world juniors, with nine goals and 12 points in seven games.

He was recently traded to CSKA Moscow. Despite reports of this long-term deal to stay in Russia, Fletcher, speaking to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, seemed confident the Wild will be able to bring Kaprizov into their lineup for the 2018-19 season.

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

“We’ve been in contact with his agent over the last couple weeks and we haven’t been made aware of anything like you’re communicating to me,” Fletcher said. “We’re operating under the assumption he’s got a year left. He’s going to play for CSKA, and then he’s interested in coming over and playing for the Wild for the 18-19 season. He’s a heckuva player. I think he’ll be ready to step in and be a good hockey player for us a year from now. That’s our expectation and our hope. We haven’t been notified of anything to the contrary.

“There was a rumor a few weeks ago of something to this effect, too, and his agent shot it down and said it wasn’t true. It’s just been communicated to us that he’s going to play for CSKA another year, and our hope he’s going to suit up for the Wild in 18-19.”

There has also been a recent report that it’s expected former Sabres general manager Tim Murray will join the Wild.

Fletcher also shot down that report for right now, saying it wasn’t “accurate,” although his full comments didn’t completely shut the door on the possibility of such a scenario happening further along down the road.

“We’ll see what the future brings, but right now, that’s not true at all. There’d be a lot of hoops and hurdles there, and it’s not even a good thing to speculate on because there’s nothing true to that at all right now. That’s not true at all.”

Related: Wild owner confirms Fletcher safe as GM

AP sources: Capitals to host Maple Leafs in outdoor game at Naval Academy

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Two people with knowledge of the situation say the Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs will play an outdoor game at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, next season.

The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Saturday because the NHL had not announced the event. The game is scheduled to be played March 3 at the 34,000-seat Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium that hosts Navy football games.

It will be the first NHL outdoor game at a U.S. service academy, though quite possibly not the last. The league has explored doing games at the Army’s home at West Point and at the Air Force Academy.

It’s the third outdoor game for the Capitals and Maple Leafs and the first in the Washington area since the 2015 Winter Classic downtown at Nationals Park.

Capitals-Maple Leafs at the Naval Academy will be one of at least three outdoor games next season. The Ottawa Senators will host the Montreal Canadiens in the Heritage Classic on Dec. 19, and the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres will play in the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 at Citi Field in New York.

NHL Network revealed on air that the league would announce a game at Navy on Monday.