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Kremlin hails Alex Ovechkin for starting pro-Putin group

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MOSCOW (AP) — Alex Ovechkin‘s new “social movement” to support President Vladimir Putin received Kremlin backing Friday.

The Washington Capitals captain said Thursday on Instagram he was starting a group called Putin Team to “show everyone a strong and united Russia.” Ovechkin added that he has never hidden his feelings about Putin and has “always supported him openly.”

The Russian presidential election is scheduled for March 18. Putin hasn’t confirmed he will run for a fourth term, but is widely expected to do so.

“We obviously welcome in general Sasha’s desire to express support for our president, especially from abroad,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, referring to Ovechkin.

Peskov added that Ovechkin is “a very famous Russian, a very successful Russian, and we really know that he values our president highly.”

Ovechkin, speaking after the Capitals’ game against the New York Islanders on Thursday, said he didn’t mean his post as a political gesture, but as a sign of Russian patriotism.

He hasn’t said what exactly the movement will do or how it will be organized.

Putin is a hockey fan who takes to the ice for annual televised exhibitions games using the branding of the NHL – though in that case it stands for “Night Hockey League.” Putin plays alongside former star players and government officials, and regularly scores several goals, though his opponents seem reluctant to challenge him for the puck.

Alex Ovechkin creates ‘Putin Team’ movement supporting Russian president

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has not announced whether he’ll seek re-election in March, but he has one high-profiled superstar athlete on his side.

On Thursday, Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin posted on Instagram that he’s creating a movement, the Putin Team, to support the country’s leader.

Личные награды и призы – все это здорово, но в хоккее, как и в любом деле, для победы важнее команда. Только команда способна переломить ход игры, сделать невозможное. В последнее время в западной прессе я встречаю сочетание Putin’s team, то есть команда Путина. И знаете, мне очень понравилось это определение. Лично я готов быть частью такой команды. Я никогда не скрывал своего отношения к нашему Президенту, всегда открыто его поддерживая. Я уверен, что нас, поддерживающих Владимира Путина, много! Так давайте объединимся и покажем всем сильную и сплоченную Россию! Сегодня я хочу объявить о том, что создаю общественное движение под названием Putin Team. Быть частью такой команды – для меня гордость, это похоже на ощущение, когда ты надеваешь майку сборной России, зная, что за тебя болеет вся страна. #putinteam

A post shared by Alexander Ovechkin (@aleksandrovechkinofficial) on

Here’s the translation via Washington Post Capitals beat writer Isabelle Khurshudyan:

“Personal achievements and medals – all of this great, but in hockey, like with everything, to win it’s important to have a team. Only a team is capable of changing the course of a game, achieve the impossible. Lately, in the Western Press, I’m noticing a comparison to Putin’s team. And you know, I really liked that comparison. Personally, I’m ready to be a member of that team. I never hid my relationship with our president, always openly supported him.

“I’m certain that there are many of us that support Vladimir Putin. Let’s unite and show everyone a strong and united Russia. Today, I want to announce a social movement in the name of Putin Team. Be a part of this team – to me it’s a privilege, it’s like the feeling of when you put on the jersey of the Russian team, knowing that the whole country is rooting for you.”

Ovechkin has had a good relationship with Putin for a long time now, so despite all that is currently going on in the world the Capitals star won’t be relenting his support for the Russian leader.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told TASS that Putin was unaware of the endorsement.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Caps’ Backstrom won’t rush return from hip surgery

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Nicklas Backstrom is “not in a rush” to return from hip surgery and his status for the Washington Capitals’ season opener is very much in question.

“I’m going to be back to 100 percent before I start playing,” Backstrom told the Washington Post. “I’m not going to play on 90 percent. We’ll see how it goes. We don’t know yet.”

The Washington Capitals forward has been skating since the start of August and is feeling much better, but he realizes that he’s still very much in the recovery process and it’s hard to put a timetable on it.

When he’s healthy, Backstrom is Washington’s top center and one of the best playmakers in the world. He led the NHL with 60 assists in 2014-15 and has finished in the top-three in helpers on five separate occasions. The 27-year-old is projected to once again skate alongside Alex Ovechkin on the top line.

If he’s not healthy for the start of the season, then it will be interesting to see how Washington alters its lines in the short-term. Evgeny Kuznetsov is penciled in as the second line center, so we might see the sophomore play with Ovechkin in Washington’s first game.

PHT Morning Skate: Putin, Ovechkin, Malkin vs. students

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

To start the school year, Russian president Vladimir Putin skated on a team that included Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, and Pavel Bure and faced off against students. You can see footage of that below:


(H/T Puck Daddy and the Associated Press)

Jake Dowell, who is a veteran of 157 NHL games, has been invited to AHL Rockford’s training camp on a tryout basis. (IceHogs.com)

Braden Holtby’s retro-styled mask has been unveiled. (CSN Mid-Atlantic)

In the same vein, Michal Neuvirth’s “Rocky” mask has been revealed. (NHL.com)

Red Wings GM Ken Holland reflects on some of the changes in strategy and challenges the Red Wings have endured over the cap era as they look to make the playoffs for a 25th consecutive campaign. (RedWings.nhl.com)

Evgeny Kuznetsov hopes to spend his entire career with the Washington Capitals. (Washington Post)

Crosby, Toews, Weber, Price lead pack in NHL 16’s ratings

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After unveiling the top 10 goaltenders for the upcoming video game NHL 16, EA Sports has done the same for every other position.

As was the case last season, Sidney Crosby has the highest overall rating at 96, but there are some alterations after that. In 2015, Steven Stamkos ranked second overall with a 93 rating and he kept that rating for 2015-16, but he’s been leapfrogged by Jonathan Toews (94), Shea Weber (94), and Carey Price (94).

Pavel Datsyuk (93) and John Tavares (92) round out the top-five among centers. Both Detroit and Pittsburgh have two players in the top-10 with Henrik Zetterberg (92) and Evgeni Malkin (92) securing eighth and sixth place respectively.

As previously established, Weber leads the pack among defensemen and is followed by Duncan Keith (93), Drew Doughty (93), Ryan Suter (93), and Erik Karlsson (91). Nashville is the only team with two defensemen in the top-10 as Roman Josi (90) ranks ninth.

When it comes to right wingers, Corey Perry (92) got the top position, although he’s closely followed by Patrick Kane (92). Vladimir Tarasenko (91), Jakub Voracek (90), and Marian Hossa (90) make up the remainder of the top-five. Phil Kessel, who was traded from Toronto to Pittsburgh over the summer, saw his rating slip from 90 in 2014-15 to 89 following a rough campaign with the Maple Leafs.

When it comes to left wingers, it won’t surprise many to learn that Alex Ovechkin secured the top rating at 93. He’s followed by Jamie Benn (92), Taylor Hall (90), Zach Parise (90), and Max Pacioretty (89). The Dallas Stars’ acquisition of Patrick Sharp means that they now have two players in the top-10 as Sharp took the final place on that list with his 89 rating.

NHL 16 will be out on Sept. 15 in North America and Sept. 17 in Europe. If you want to see each position’s top-10 list, you can view them here.