Getty

Ovechkin, a durable ‘Russian machine,’ reaches 1,000 games

6 Comments

WASHINGTON (AP) Alex Ovechkin is built like a linebacker with the motor of a steam engine and the mentality of a wrecking ball.

He can score like no other player of this generation and few in history and has the physicality to match. That was evident from his first NHL shift when he powered up ice and crushed Columbus defenseman Radoslav Suchy so hard it knocked out the stanchion between the panes of plexiglass.

Ovechkin at 32 is no longer the human bulldozer he once was, but his hard-hitting style never put a dent in his prime years as he became the fourth-fastest player to 600 goals . On Sunday in Pittsburgh, the Washington Capitals’ 2004 No. 1 pick will be the first player from that draft class to play 1,000 NHL regular-season games, a testament to his durability that is also difficult to duplicate in modern hockey.

“That he has reached 1,000 games this quickly is an amazing accomplishment with the way he plays,” Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said. “These are big men, and the league has gotten faster but it’s also gotten much more fit, and that Alex has been able to span those generations and continue to play and be incredibly productive is really a historic feat.”

In 13 seasons, Ovechkin has missed more than four games only once and never missed more than 10. Take out the eight games for suspensions and the Russian winger has only sat out for injury 21 times out of a possible 1,028.

“I heard a couple years ago that he said he’s the Russian Machine,” longtime teammate Nicklas Backstrom said. “That probably has something to do with it.”

Ovechkin brushed off an injury in his second season with the now-famous line, “Russian machine never breaks.” Ovechkin has played through knee and back pain and finished one playoff series on a fractured foot, illustrating his pain tolerance while also avoiding the kinds of serious injuries that derail other players’ careers.

Goaltender Braden Holtby pointed out that it helps Ovechkin to not kill penalties and risk injuries in those situations while also marveling at how the Moscow native is built. His 6-foot-3, 235-pound frame gives him the tools to punish opponents with his body as much as his shot.

“When you’re big guy like Ovi, you’re not gonna be afraid to hit no one,” Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov said. “And when people gonna hit you, they’re gonna feel it, for sure.”

When Barry Trotz coached in Nashville, he remembered players seeing Ovechkin down the hallway cutting his stick and whispering about how big he was. Ovechkin had that intimidating presence to him.

“Trust me, we had a lot of nervous defensemen,” Trotz said. “We had a couple of nervous cats.”

Watching Ovechkin’s sometimes reckless play could have at one point made the Capitals nervous, too, because of how valuable he is and how important it is he stay healthy. In recent years, he has toned it down with age and as hockey has gotten faster with lower priorities on hitting.

“As soon as you get a little older, you realize when you have to get a hit and when you have to take a hit,” Ovechkin said. “You can see right now in the playoffs it’s different hockey. Of course, every shift you try to do something out there, but in the regular year you don’t have to run around and hit everybody because if a game is 5-2 or 4-1 you don’t have to do it. Obviously you have to play smarter and try to do different things.”

Evolving his game as a scorer and a power forward has helped Ovechkin get to this point where he’s on the verge of leading the league in goals for the seventh time and reach 50 for the eighth time.

If Ovechkin, who still has Stanley Cup aspirations and three years left on his contract, maintains this level of durability and wants to keep playing in North America toward age 40, reaching 1,500 games isn’t out of the question.

“There are a lot of players that have played 1,000 games but not as many players have scored 600 goals,” Leonsis said. “If he takes cares of himself – which he has been, he looks great – he can play a lot of years in the league.”

 

Watch Kenan Thompson’s fantastic NHL Awards monologue

1 Comment

While the Adam Sandlers, Steve Martins, and Chris Rocks of the world are the most famous people to come from “SNL,” the performers who were “lifers” land among the most talented. Kenan Thompson is one of those performers who stood the test of time, much like Darrell Hammond and Tim Meadows.

So, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising just how great Thompson was as a host of the 2019 NHL Awards, but either way, he knocked it out of the park on Wednesday.

It says a lot about the quality of the show that, even deep into the telecast – award shows are long, basically always – people were still laughing and smiling. From the emotions of Carey Price surprising a young fan, to Robin Lehner‘s speech about mental health, to the bonkers segments with “Tony Babcock,” the show had a little bit of everything.

And Thompson’s fantastic monologue really set a fun tone with legitimately great jokes.

Considering that the NHL wouldn’t want Thompson to go scorched earth like Norm MacDonald did during that unforgettable ESPYS appearance, this was a great mix of funny and wholesome.

Though, that’s not to say that there weren’t any spicy zingers.

  • Watch as the Tampa Bay Lightning go stone-faced when Thompson makes a great barb about the Bolts getting swept.

Actually, it was mainly Andrei Vasilevskiy looking displeased. Also, notice Nick Foligno grinning widely in the background. Hmm, I wonder why he might enjoy that joke?

  • Enjoy the juxtaposition of many hockey people generally not reacting to jokes while their significant others laugh like the rest of us.
  • Enjoy some great deep cuts, from jokes you’d be more likely to expect, to a really creative bit about The Pope Mobile being a penalty box on wheels, and the Pope getting five minutes for “cross-checking.” (Thompson deserved cheers, not boos, for that one.)
  • Also, Thompson has a point about the Blues using “Gloria” instead of the actual Blues.

Overall, the 2019 NHL Awards are going to be a tough act to follow. Here’s hoping Thompson gets to try it in 2020, because he (and basically everyone else involved, Jillian Fisher was a great addition, too) did a truly fantastic job.

While it’s not quite at the same level as Thompson’s monologue, the cold open included John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, and Laila Anderson (!), so you might enjoy it, too:

More: Rounding up the NHL Awards.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

2019 NHL Awards: All the winners, video, more

1 Comment

A lot naturally happened during the 2019 NHL Awards and there are still some winners left to highlight. Before we do that though, let’s recap some of tonight’s big winners:

Calder Trophy: Elias Pettersson

Lady Byng: Aleksander Barkov

GM of the Year: Don Sweeney

Norris Trophy: Mark Giordano

Masterton Trophy: Robin Lehner

Selke Trophy: Ryan O’Reilly

Jack Adams: Barry Trotz

Vezina Trophy: Andrei Vasilevskiy

Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay: Nikita Kucherov

Now let’s tackle the other winners.

King Clancy Trophy: Jason Zucker,

Zucker and his wife Carly began the Zucker Family Suite and Broadcast Studio with a $160,000 donation and have raised over $1.2 million in under a year. The project allows kids and their families at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital to watch Minnesota Wild games in a space that mimics the experience of being at the game.

Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award: Wayne Simmonds

Before being traded to the Nashville Predators in February, Simmonds was deeply involved with the Flyers’ community efforts. Among other things, he was a board member for the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation for six years. He also spent four years as an honorary chairman of their annual golf tournament, which is the foundation’s biggest fundraiser.

Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award: Rico Phillips

Of course, the Art Ross Trophy went to Nikita Kucherov, the Rocket Richard Trophy went to Alex Ovechkin, and the Jennings Trophy was shared by Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss.

First All-Star Team:
G: Andrei Vasilevskiy
D: Brent Burns
D: Mark Giordano
C: Connor McDavid
RW: Nikita Kucherov
LW: Alex Ovechkin

Second All-Star Team:
G: Ben Bishop
D: Victor Hedman
D: John Carlson
C: Sidney Crosby
RW: Patrick Kane
LW: Brad Marchand

All-Rookie Team:
G: Jordan Binnington
D: Rasmus Dahlin
D: Miro Heiskanen
F: Elias Pettersson
F: Anthony Cirelli
F: Brady Tkachuk

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Nikita Kucherov caps NHL Awards haul with Hart Trophy

Leave a comment

Things didn’t go as planned for Nikita Kucherov and the Tampa Bay Lightning once the postseason began, but the 2019 NHL Awards serve as a helpful reminder that they made history through the 82-game regular season.

No Lightning player enjoyed a better season than Kucherov, and he was awarded appropriately on Wednesday. Kucherov won the 2019 Hart Trophy, which joins the 2019 Ted Lindsay Award (the player-voted version of the Hart), and the scoring title, i.e. the 2019 Art Ross Trophy.

He also enjoyed a wonderfully awkward comic segment with “Tony Babcock,” aka Thomas Middleditch, so it was a big night for Kucherov.

Kucherov beat finalists Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh Penguins) and Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers) for the Hart Trophy, which is the sort of sentence you lead with when you’re making a Hall of Fame argument.

Here are the voting results:

Taylor Hall won the Hart Trophy last year, McDavid captured the 2016-17 Hart Trophy, and Sidney Crosby last won it in 2013-14.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Carey Price surprises young fan in NHL Awards’ most touching moment

1 Comment

The 2019 NHL Awards celebrates the best players and moments in hockey, but it’s also a great reminder of how much of an impact players can make off the ice.

As you can see from this roundup, Minnesota Wild forward Jason Zucker won the King Clancy for his humanitarian work, while the Willie O’Ree Community Award went to Rico Phillips, who’s doing tremendous work in Flint, Michigan.

Those were great moments, but the most emotional moment happened when Carey Price surprised young Montreal Canadiens fan Anderson Whitehead with a jersey, hug, and what sounds like a trip to the 2020 NHL All-Star Game.

Warning: you’re very likely to cry while watching this clip. At first, it seems like Price’s video is coming from off site, as he spoke of Whitehead’s mother, who died of cancer at age 44. Price then interrupted his own message, and then surprised Whitehead on stage at the 2019 NHL Awards, and … it’s a goosebumps moment.

The look of shock and surprise on Anderson Whitehead’s face is the sort of thing that will stick with most of us far beyond who won the Hart Trophy and any awards debates, and even beats out the comedy bits, which were expertly deployed by SNL’s Kenan Thompson.

(Honestly, it might be the greatest thing I’ve ever seen at a sports awards show.)

As a reminder, Price first gave Anderson Whitehead a hug earlier this season, and the moment went viral:

Great stuff … and good luck booing Carey Price.

If you need some comic relief after experiencing all of those feelings, enjoy Thompson’s opening monologue, which was really good stuff. May I lead the charge in getting Thompson to do the 2020 NHL Awards, and maybe become as much of a fixture during these ceremonies as he’s been a lifer with SNL? Just throwing my vote (which doesn’t count for anything) out there.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.