Overweight Ovechkin? Not so much says team strength and conditioning coach

It’s a cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words and in Alex Ovechkin’s case, a screen cap from a video on the Capitals website resulted in a few words that all had to do with him appearing to be overweight. With Alex relaxing in a chair in a regular t-shirt, the Internet went wild thinking that Ovechkin took to getting over losing in the second round of the playoffs to Tampa Bay with an all deep-fried diet.

As can happen sometimes, all is not as it appeared to be and while some are still grabbing the low-hanging fruit and picking on Ovechkin for being overweight, it turns out that’s not even close to being true. CSNWashington.com’s Chuck Gormley spoke with the Capitals’ strength and conditioning coach, Mark Nemish, and finds out that Ovechkin isn’t overweight at all.

“I already know he’s in shape. I can tell,” Nemish said Monday. “We’ve worked several times on the ice,  and without a doubt he’s in the best shape I’ve ever seen him.”

At 225 pounds, Ovechkin has reported to training camp nine pounds lighter than last year and said last week he dedicated his off-season to being leaner and stronger. Nemish, for one, has noticed.

“I wouldn’t say there were big philosophical changes, there was probably more of a change in timing,” Nemish said. “His commitment has been much more involved at an earlier time.

“He has more under his belt in terms of when he started to train. All I can tell you is that what he has done this summer – the more time he has put in – certainly has paid off and he’s ready to go at a much quicker rate than he’s had in the past.”

A lighter, quicker Ovechkin sounds like a scarier, more terrifying version of one of the best players in the world. With everything that Ovechkin is doing this offseason from changing when he starts training in the offseason to even showing up to participate in drills with the rookies during their camp. Seeing your team’s best player taking things very seriously and preparing for the season in this way is visibly encouraging. If it all turns into big results during the season and in the playoffs, it’ll help make Ovechkin’s legend in Washington grow to extreme proportions.

For Ovechkin and the Capitals, they’re hoping that by slimming down and getting in better shape it’ll translate into seeing Ovechkin’s goal numbers go back to the levels we’ve seen in previous years. While Ovechkin scored 32 goals last season and led the Capitals once again, it was the lowest mark of his career by 14 goals. The Caps have been spoiled by Ovechkin’s production but getting back above the 40-goal barrier would help the Caps out immensely.

We’ll have to see if the new, slimmed down Ovechkin can be the wrecking ball of offense that he’s made out to be.

Golden Knights don’t want to focus on big picture

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LAS VEGAS (AP) The Vegas Golden Knights have done an excellent job of not looking too far ahead in their inaugural season.

It has served them well during their amazing run as an expansion team, all the way to the top of the NHL standings.

After Saturday’s 6-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens, the Golden Knights lead the NHL with 82 points.

According to the league, Vegas is the first expansion team in its inaugural season to hold the outright lead in the standings this late into a season – 58 games played – besting the 1967-68 Kings, who led the league through 19 games on Nov. 24, 1967.

But as veteran goalkeeper and three-time Stanley Cup winner Marc-Andre Fleury said, there is a point in the season every team is either trying to get into the playoffs or stay positioned where they are for the postseason.

“Right now, we’re in good shape,” Fleury said. “We are aware where we are, but we can’t just sit back. We have to keep chasing those points night after night.”

The cliche of “one game at a time” has transitioned into playing with a sense of urgency with seven weeks left in the regular season.

Four games into a seven-game homestand, Vegas has won three straight since losing to Philadelphia on Feb. 11. The Golden Knights responded with wins over Chicago, Edmonton, and the Canadiens, outscoring the three by a combined 15-6.

“We’re in a good spot right now, we’re happy where we are, but we’re a team that’s always going to have something to prove,” defenseman Brayden McNabb said.

“I think everyone probably watches the standings, a little more closer in the West than the East. It’s one thing about having a lot of points early and being in first place in the West.

“It’s a little different with this group, we all have something to prove still. We’re an expansion team, no one ever thought we’d be here, where we are right now.”

Nevertheless, McNabb said coach Gerard Gallant has done a good job of keeping his players focused, ensuring they’re performing their best each game.

“The whole point of taking it day by day is you’re not focused on the big picture and I feel like that’s a good approach for our team to have,” defenseman Shea Theodore said.

“You can’t look too far ahead, it’s just kind of how we’re rolling and we’re doing a good job with that. I feel like we’ve done a good job of showing the league we’re for real.”

Even team owner Bill Foley has gotten in on the act of not looking too far ahead. After Saturday night’s win, Foley expressed concern over Theodore’s recent throat infection that kept him out of the lineup, he spoke about Pierre-Edouard Bellemare getting injured during the game and said while he is happy with his team’s success it’s important not to become complacent.

“But it is fun, it’s great,” Foley said. “One thing we did when we did the expansion draft, it was a lot of hard work, and we put a lot of planning into it. We had five mock draft sessions in the expansion draft. We knew other teams as well or better than they knew themselves. So, we knew what we were getting. And (general manager) George (McPhee) did a phenomenal job in making some key deals. The result is what we have.

“We have guys that have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder and they want to play hard, and they really play hard against their former teams.”

With Saturday’s win over one of the NHL’s Original Six teams, Vegas improved to 22-4-2 at T-Mobile Arena, matching the 1979-80 Hartford Whalers (22-12-6) for the most home wins by a team in its first season.

It doesn’t get any easier for Vegas, which is 14-1-1 against Pacific Division teams, and faces key games this upcoming week against Anaheim on Monday, Calgary on Wednesday and Vancouver on Friday.

“The schedule is going to be tough with a lot of games coming up,” Fleury said. “We gotta find a way to be consistent all those nights and keep fighting. We still gotta focus playing one game at a time. You don’t want to think too far down the road. Every game is important.”

Veteran defenseman Deryk Engelland agreed.

“We’ve been doing a good job all year of taking it one game at a time and treating every game as a must win. It’s a tight division, it’s a tight conference and we just have to take it one game at a time.

“Come April 8, we can maybe gear up from there, but from now `til then it’s one game at time and get ready for the next one.”

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Should Zach Hyman’s goal on Petr Mrazek have counted?

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There may or may not have been a controversial call in Sunday’s game between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.

With the score tied at zero in the first period, Zach Hyman appeared to have opened the scoring for the Leafs, but the goal was waved off because Red Wings netminder Petr Mrazek‘s mask came off.

As you can tell from the video below, Auston Matthews‘ shot catches Mrazek in the mask. Right before Hyman buries the buck into the net, Mrazek shakes his mask off because a strap snapped out of place. It’s definitely not an easy call to make in the moment.

Take a look for yourself:

Here’s what rule 9.6 of the NHL rulebook says about these kind of plays:

When a goalkeeper has lost his helmet and/or face mask and his team has control of the puck, the play shall be stopped immediately to allow the goalkeeper the opportunity to regain his helmet and/or face mask. When the opposing team has control of the puck, play shall only be stopped if there is no immediate and impending scoring opportunity. This stoppage of play must be made by the Referee. When play is stopped because the goalkeeper has lost his helmet and/or face mask, the ensuing face-off shall take place at one of the defending team’s end zone face-off spots.

When a goalkeeper deliberately removes his helmet and/or face mask in order to secure a stoppage of play, the Referee shall stop play as outlined above and in this case assess the goalkeeper a minor penalty for delaying the game. 

It’s clear that Mrazek removed his helmet intentionally, but he only did so because at least one of the straps snapped off. Also, the referee could have blown the play dead because he assumed that one of the two Red Wings in the slot would take control of the puck. Instead, both Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi whiffed on it.

But according to the rule, the play can only be stopped if the opposing team doesn’t have an immediate or impending scoring opportunity. Was Hyman’s chance an immediate or impending scoring opportunity? It sure looks like it, but that’s at the official’s discretion.

There’s a bit of a grey zone with this rule, so it’s hard to say if the referee applied the rule correctly or not.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Connor McDavid spoils Nathan MacKinnon’s return

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Sunday’s game between the Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche was supposed to be all about Nathan MacKinnon‘s return to the lineup, but Connor McDavid had other ideas.

The Oilers might be struggling, but McDavid had some individual success this month. On Sunday, the Oilers captain picked up his second hat trick of the month in Edmonton’s 4-2 win over Colorado.

In eight games this month, the 21-year-old has accumulated an impressive 11 goals.

Here’s his first tally of the game:

McDavid finished the game with a plus-3 rating, five shots on goal and a huge save in 19:52 of ice time. That’s right, a huge save. With the Avs leading 1-0 in the first period, McDavid prevented the opposition from going up by two.

His second tally tied the game at two, while his hat-trick goal was scored into an empty-net.

According to NHL Public Relations, He’s the first Oiler to score three hat tricks in a season since Petr Klima in 1990-91.

Meanwhile, MacKinnon returned the lineup after missing eight games with an upper-body injury. He had a minus-2 rating, four shots on goal and one hit in 22:20 of ice time. Only Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen had more ice time among Avalanche forward.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

American women try to sharpen aim for semifinal vs. Finland

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GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Shooting the puck is not an issue for the Americans. Finding the back of the net is, especially considering how many shots they are taking at the Olympics.

The United States has outshot each opponent in each of their first three games with a combined margin of 137-60. Yet they have just nine goals to show for all that work. Their offense withered in a opening 3-1 win over Finland. It’s not for lack of trying: Knight tied for the team-high with six shots in a win over the Russians and had four in the loss to Canada.

”Any good shooter knows that you’ve just got to take shots and some are going to go in, some aren’t going to go in,” Knight said. ”So hopefully the pucks start bouncing in the direction we want them to go.”

Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson leads the Americans with three points after setting an Olympic record for the fastest back-to-back goals by a man or woman by scoring in 6 seconds in a 5-0 win over the Russians.

Stauber reunited Lamoureux-Davidson on the same line with her sister, Monique Lamoureux-Morando, just before these Olympics, and the twins have combined for five points in three games on a line with Kelly Pannek. Lamoureux-Davidson said they simply need to bury their chances.

”We had a lot of shots on net and a lot of opportunities, some loose pucks on the net in scrums, a few inches off in a lot of them, so we’ve just got to find a way to get those goals,” she said.

With the United States winning the last four world championships and seven of the last eight , the easy and usual assumption is the Americans would square off against Canada for the gold medal the Canadians have won each of the past four Olympics . But the United States lost to Sweden in 2006 and took home bronze from Turin.

The Americans are 7-0 against Finland (Sunday, Feb. 18, 11:10 p.m. ET, NBCSN) in the Olympics and have won 22 games in international competition with one overtime loss and one tie. But Finland beat Canada in pool play at the world championships last spring and has worked to take advantage of this opportunity.

”It’s sort of a one-game tournament now,” Knight said. ”We’ve got to win to advance to where we want to be. Can’t take Finland lightly. Every game is 50/50 going in, so just trying to sway the odds in our favor during the time of play.”

Stauber said he has tinkered less with the game plan based on their familiarity with the Finns, the world’s third-ranked team last year. Combined with how they’ve been shooting the puck, that’s why the Americans are focused on converting within 15 feet of the net.

Easier said than done with opponents working to clog up the middle to keep the United States from doing just that.

”Now we’ve got to execute and get the puck across the goal line,” Stauber said.

Follow Teresa M. Walker at http://www.twitter.com/teresamwalker