Alex Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin calls his body ‘perfect,’ signs endorsement deal with Bauer

While many justifiably blamed his perceived beer belly at least partially on bad posture, it was still easy to be a bit concerned about Alex Ovechkin’s physical condition during this off-season. That being said, even if those images were as bad as they looked, they surfaced in July – giving Ovechkin plenty of time to sand that supposed gut down into a bump (at worst). Ultimately, I think that Washington Capitals shouldn’t be too concerned with their superstar captain’s fitness level.

Apparently Ovechkin agrees that everything will be OK. When asked about his weight, he told reporters that his “body is perfect right now.” If you take his comments at face value, then it might be safe to believe that Ovechkin will return to the beast-like form he exhibited in each of his seasons before (a notably unlucky) 2010-11 season. Here’s the full quote from Chuck Gormley of CSNWashington.com.

“People were a little bit scared about what happened to my body, but my body is perfect right now,” Ovechkin told reporters after announcing a six-year agreement with Bauer Hockey. “It was interesting for me because that’s never happened to me, people saying I’m in bad shape.”

While Mr. Big candy bars might be a bit obscure to American chocolate eaters (at least personally speaking), Ovechkin keeps adding more high-profile endorsements to his portfolio. Earlier this month, it was revealed that Ovechkin would boost Nike products. Now it’s clear that he will team up with Nike’s former partner Bauer.

There are two interesting things about the Bauer partnership. The first is more on the heartwarming side, as hockey programs in Ovechkin’s native Russia and his home-away-from-home will both benefit from donations.

To that end, Bauer Hockey and Ovechkin have agreed to donate 108 sets of equipment to the Dynamo Hockey School in Ovechkin’s hometown of Moscow. Another 108 sets of equipment will go to the Kettler Capitals Iceplex and the Potomac Valley Amateur Hockey Association in Washington.

One program that will benefit from the equipment donation will be the Fort Dupont Hockey Club, which was founded in 1977 in the driveway of Neal Henderson’s home in Springdale, Md. The club, which now has 65 players, teaches hockey and life skills to children in Washington’s poorest districts.

As Gormley points out, the goal isn’t just to benefit others with free equipment. Ovechkin seemed to quietly struggle with his previous skates and sticks, which means that the endorsement changes might not be for money-related reasons alone.

Ovechkin hopes his switch to Bauer produces more than just good will. Notorious for breaking sticks like toothpicks, Ovechkin is counting on Bauer to provide him with a sturdier product, which in turn should produce more goals.

“He’s been trying his hardest to break a stick and so far they seem to be indestructible,” Leonsis said, “and that makes us all smile.”

As long as he’s healthy, Ovechkin should have a much better campaign in 2011-12 by the law of averages alone. Most hockey players would consider selling their souls for a 32-goal, 85-point season, but for a phenom like Ovechkin, it was a down year. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, though; Ovechkin took 367 shots in 10-11, just one less than in 09-10. He just wasn’t getting the bounces that went his way for most of his career. Ovechkin connected on just 8.7 percent of shots, well below his career average of 11.9 percent.

The change in equipment will probably only make a subtle difference, if any at all. Yet if he feels more confident shooting with different sticks – and gets the bounces he should – then it’s easy to picture a 40+ or even 50+ goal season for Ovechkin … whether he has a “perfect body” or not.

Weather forecast looks good for Penguins-Flyers

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 01:  Fireworks go off before the start of the 2011 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals at Heinz Field on January 1, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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Pittsburgh set a new weather record today, with temperatures reaching a summer-like 76 degrees.

But it’s supposed to cool down considerably tomorrow, with only a chance of showers during the day — good news with the Penguins and Flyers set to play outdoors at Heinz Field.

Game time tomorrow is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET (on NBC).

“It’ll be fun, and what the weather is, because it’s unpredictable, is one of the great intriguing parts of putting on these games,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a radio interview, per the Post-Gazette.

The last time the Penguins played outdoors at Heinz Field, in the 2011 Winter Classic, the threat of rain forced the start time from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Tomorrow’s forecast from The Weather Network:

weather

Related: How to watch and stream Penguins-Flyers outdoor game

Blues extend Berglund — five years, $19.25 million

Patrik Berglund
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Just a few hours ago, we passed along reports that St. Louis was in extension talks with longtime forward Patrik Berglund.

Now, the deal’s done.

Per the Post-Dispatch, Berglund has signed a five-year extension worth $19.25 million. It’s a $3.85M average annual cap hit, up slightly from the $3.7M he’s making on his current deal.

Berglund, 28, was a pending UFA but made it clear he wanted to stick in St. Louis.

“I would like to still be a Blue,” Berglund said earlier this week, per the Post-Dispatch. “I think everybody in here and upstairs knows that I want to be a Blue, too.”

Berglund has spent his entire nine-year career in St. Louis, emerging as versatile forward that can play the middle or wing. He’s also found the back of the net 17 times this season, and is flirting with matching or surpassing the career-high 22 he scored back in ’10-11.

It’s a fair bit of term and financial commitment for the veteran Swede, who hasn’t cracked 40 points in six years. And there’s reason to suggest Blues fans might be irate dollars are being committed here, rather than in an effort to retain Kevin Shattenkirk.

That said, it’s not entirely surprising GM Doug Armstrong opted to retain Berglund. The Blues have undergone major changes over the last few seasons, jettisoning veterans like Barret Jackman, T.J. Oshie, Troy Brouwer, Brian Elliott and longtime captain David Backes.

With this new deal, Berglund will be in St. Louis through 2022. The only player signed on longer than that is Vladimir Tarasenko.

With this contract inked, attention will almost entirely focus on Shattenkirk. The pending UFA d-man is believed to be on his way out by the Mar. 1 trade deadline.

Habs need to ‘find their confidence,’ and they need to find it soon

Montreal Canadiens coach Claude Julien watches from the bench during the team's NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, in Montreal. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP)
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All of a sudden the Montreal Canadiens aren’t such a sure thing to make the playoffs.

According to Sports Club Stats, a record of 8-10-3 in their final 21 games would put them in the danger zone. And the way things have been going, you can’t rule it out.

Last night, the Habs dropped a 3-0 decision to the Islanders at Bell Centre. They’re now 7-12-2 in their last 21, and 1-2-0 since Claude Julien took over as head coach from Michel Therrien.

It wasn’t a very fun night for the home team.

From the Montreal Gazette:

The boos started with about five minutes remaining in Thursday night’s game between the Canadiens and the New York Islanders, and they would have been louder if many fans hadn’t already made a beeline for the Bell Centre exits before John Tavares’s empty-net goal put an exclamation point on the Islanders’ 3-0 victory.

Captain Max Pacioretty said he wasn’t surprised by the fans’ negative reaction.

“We haven’t played good enough,” Pacioretty said after the Canadiens’ home record in February dropped to 0-4-1. “They pay good money to come watch us play and they deserve better.”

This morning, Julien juggled the lines at practice, hoping to find some more potent combinations ahead of Saturday’s big game in Toronto. He told reporters afterwards that the team has been better defensively, but now it’s time for the offense to improve.

“I think one of the big issues is probably our neutral zone transition, which hasn’t been very good,” Julien said. “It’s gotta be quick, you gotta have some support, and then you want to cross that blue line with some speed. Teams are going to stand you up; you gotta be able to retrieve those loose pucks.”

He then added, “Our transition game is important, but also the confidence of the players. They need to find their confidence to score goals. Today, we did some drills where they had outnumbered situations and they were able to score some goals.”

The mental state of the Canadiens will certainly be worth monitoring. As everyone knows, Montreal is not an easy market when things are going poorly. Last year’s collapse demonstrated that rather well.

“The more we talk about it, the more fragile we’ll be,” Pacioretty said. “At the end of the day, we’re playing hockey and we’ve played it all our lives. Guys have to find it. I don’t think excuses are possible now, guys just have to find their game.”

Tippett calls out Smith, Goligoski, Schenn for ‘brutal’ efforts

Dave Tippett
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It’s not very often head coaches call out underperforming players by name, but that’s exactly what Arizona bench boss Dave Tippett did following Thursday’s defeat in Chicago.

The Coyotes website has full video of his postgame availability, but here are the key parts:

Q: Is the disappointment now maybe because expectations are going up, as the team gets better?

Tippett: Yeah, you should expect to win every night. Go out there and play well. We had veterans that were brutal out there tonight.

Q: Is this the good part about hockey, you get to get back out there tomorrow and try to flush it?

Tippett: Yeah, get right back at it, lots more to try to achieve. We’ve got to continue to get better. Our young players have to continue to get better, but we need our veterans to play a lot better.

Q: Is Mike [Smith] an example of that?

Tippett: Yeah. Mike, [Alex] Goligoski, [Luke] Schenn… a lot of guys can play a lot better.

Tippett seemed to be most critical of Smith. He said his club didn’t “get some extra saves,” adding that Smith couldn’t make a stop while the Coyotes kept making mistakes in front of him.

The critique might seem a bit harsh, given Smith’s been under siege for most of the year. His .915 save percentage is pretty respectable, given he’s playing behind one of the leakiest teams in the league.

As for Goligoski, it’s fair to say he’s been a disappointment since signing a five-year, $27.375 million deal in free agency. He got off to a frustrating start, and while he’s posted decent offensive numbers — 23 points in 59 games — his possession metrics leave much to be desired (45.4 CF %).

Schenn, signed on the cheap in the hopes of reviving his career, hasn’t done much to shed the reputation he’s built over the last few years. He’s done little on offense, logs bottom-pair minutes, is minus-7 and leads all Coyotes d-men in PIM.

The two finished minus-1 last night, and each had a pair of giveaways.