Lars Eller

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NBCSN’s Stanley Cup Final Week schedule: June 8-14

NBC Sports presents Stanley Cup Final Week on NBCSN, reliving classic Stanley Cup Final games and original films and shows from the past decade across seven nights, beginning on Monday, June 8.

The memorable Stanley Cup broadcasts include the Washington Capitals and St. Louis Blues’ inaugural championships the past two seasons, Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins victory in 2009, the Chicago Blackhawks’ wins in 2010 and 2013, as well as the Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings Cup wins in 2011 and 2014, respectively.

Kathryn Tappen and Liam McHugh will introduce matchups throughout the week. Saturday and Sunday’s Stanley Cup clinching broadcasts will feature new commentary from actor and Blues fan Jon Hamm, 12-year-old Blues super-fan Laila Anderson and Capitals forward Lars Eller, who scored the 2018 Stanley Cup winning goal.

Below is each night’s highlighted Stanley Cup Final Week content:

• Monday, June 8: 2009 Stanley Cup Final
• Tuesday, June 9: 2010 Stanley Cup Final
• Wednesday, June 10: 2011 Stanley Cup Final
• Thursday, June 11: 2013 Stanley Cup Final
• Friday, June 12: 2014 Stanley Cup Final
• Saturday, June 13: 2018 Stanley Cup Final
• Sunday, June 14: 2019 Stanley Cup Final

Programming will also stream on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

MONDAY, JUNE 8 – 2009 STANLEY CUP FINAL ON NBCSN
The opening night of Stanley Cup Final Week features Game 2, 6 and 7 from the 2009 Stanley Cup Final that was won by Sidney Crosby and the PPenguins, after rallying from 2-0 and 3-2 series deficits, against the Red Wings. Evgeni Malkin won the Conn Smythe Trophy in this rematch of the 2008 Cup Final, which was won by the Red Wings.

Kathryn Tappen will introduce the opening night.

• NHL Hat Trick Trivia Hosted by P.K. Subban (Episode 3) – 5 p.m. ET
• 2009 Stanley Cup Final Game 2: Pittsburgh vs. Detroit – 5:30 p.m. ET
• 2009 Stanley Cup Final Game 6: Detroit vs. Pittsburgh – 7 p.m. ET
• 2009 Stanley Cup Final Game 7: Pittsburgh vs. Detroit – 9 p.m. ET
• 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins Championship Film – 11 p.m. ET
• 2009 Stanley Cup Final Game 7: Pittsburgh vs. Detroit – 12:30 a.m. ET
• Gamechangers: All-Time Greats 2:30 a.m. ET

TUESDAY, JUNE 9 – 2010 STANLEY CUP FINAL ON NBCSN
On the tenth anniversary of the Blackhawks clinching Game 6 to win the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, Games 1, 3 and 6 of the Cup Final between the Flyers and Blackhawks highlight NBCSN’s coverage on Tuesday. In overtime of Game 6, the Blackhawks won the Cup, ending their championship drought, which was the longest active streak in the NHL at the time. Jonathan Toews won the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Liam McHugh will host Tuesday’s coverage.

• Who Wore It Best? (Episode 4) 5 p.m. NBCSN
• 2010 Stanley Cup Final Game 1: Philadelphia vs. Chicago – 5:30 p.m. ET
• 2010 Stanley Cup Final Game 3: Chicago vs. Philadelphia – 7 p.m. ET
• 2010 Stanley Cup Final Game 6: Chicago vs. Philadelphia – 9 p.m. ET
• 2010 Stanley Cup Final Game 3: Chicago vs. Philadelphia – 11 p.m. ET
• 2010 Stanley Cup Final Game 6: Chicago vs. Philadelphia – 1 a.m. ET

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 10 – 2011 STANLEY CUP FINAL ON NBCSN
On Wednesday, NBCSN will present Game 6 and 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final between the Bruins and Canucks. Behind a 4-0 shutout win in Game 7, the Bruins ended a 39-year Stanley Cup drought with the victory. Boston goaltender Tim Thomas won the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Tappen will host Stanley Cup Final Week on Wednesday.

• Skates & Plates – 4 p.m. ET
• 2011 Stanley Cup Final Game 6: Vancouver vs. Boston – 4:30 p.m. ET
• 2011 Stanley Cup Final Game 7: Boston vs. Vancouver – 10 p.m. ET
• 2011 Boston Bruins Championship Film – 11:30 p.m. ET
• 2011 Stanley Cup Final Game 7: Boston vs. Vancouver – 1 a.m. ET
• Top 10: All-Time Records – 2:30 a.m. ET

THURSDAY, JUNE 11 – 2013 STANLEY CUP FINAL ON NBCSN
Three matchups from the 2013 Cup Final (Games 2, 4 and 6) between the Blackhawks and Bruins will be featured Thursday. Chicago won the championship in a thrilling last-minute comeback in Game 6, claiming their second Cup win in four years after also winning the title in 2010. Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks won MVP.

McHugh will introduce coverage on Thursday night.

• 2013 Stanley Cup Final Game 2: Boston vs. Chicago – 5 p.m. ET
• 2013 Stanley Cup Final Game 4: Chicago vs. Boston – 7 p.m. ET
• 2013 Stanley Cup Final Game 6: Chicago vs. Boston – 9 p.m. ET
• 2013 Chicago Blackhawks Championship Film – 11 p.m. ET
• 2013 Stanley Cup Final Game 6: Chicago vs. Boston – 12:30 a.m. ET
• Gamechangers: All-Time Greats – 2:30 a.m. ET

FRIDAY, JUNE 12 – 2014 STANLEY CUP FINAL ON NBCSN
NBCSN presents the Kings victory in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final against the Rangers on Friday. Los Angeles’ double-overtime victory in Game 2 will be followed by another double-overtime thriller in Game 5, as Alec Martinez of the Kings clinched their second Cup in three years following the franchise’s first-ever championship in 2012. The Kings’ Justin Williams won MVP.

On Friday, Tappen will host coverage of the 2014 Cup Final broadcasts.

• 2014 Stanley Cup Final Game 2: New York Rangers vs. Los Angeles – 8 p.m. ET
• 2014 Stanley Cup Final Game 5: New York Rangers vs. Los Angeles – 9:30 p.m. ET
• 2014 Los Angeles Kings Championship Film – 11 p.m. ET

SATURDAY, JUNE 13 – 2018 STANLEY CUP FINAL ON NBCSN
Saturday kicks off back-to-back nights highlighting franchises’ winning their first-ever Cup, beginning with the Capitals in 2018. Facing the expansion Golden Knights, Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals rallied from a Game 1 loss to win four straight and capture Washington’s inaugural title. Ovechkin was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy.

McHugh will introduce Saturday’s coverage and be joined by Capitals forward Lars Eller, who scored the Cup winning goal, during the Game 5 broadcast.

• 2018 Stanley Cup Final Game 1: Washington vs. Vegas – 8 p.m. ET
• 2018 Stanley Cup Final Game 5: Washington vs. Vegas – 9:30 p.m. ET
• 2018 Washington Capitals Championship Film – 11 p.m. ET
• 2018 Stanley Cup Final Game 5: Washington vs. Vegas – 1 a.m. ET
• Gamechangers: Knight Fever – 2:30 a.m. ET

SUNDAY, JUNE 14 – 2019 STANLEY CUP FINAL ON NBCSN
The concluding night of Stanley Cup Final Week highlights last year’s historic Stanley Cup Final between the Blues and Bruins. The deciding Game 7, won by the Blues, capped the team’s memorable turnaround from last place in the NHL standings in January, to the franchise’s first-ever Cup. Ryan O’Reilly won the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Tappen will host the concluding night of Stanley Cup Final Week and be joined by actor Jon Hamm and Blues super-fan Laila Anderson during the presentation of Game 7.

• 2019 Stanley Cup Final Game 7: St. Louis vs. Boston – 10 p.m. ET
• 2019 St. Louis Blues Championship Film – 11:30 p.m. ET
• 2019 Stanley Cup Final Game 7: St. Louis vs. Boston – 12:30 a.m. ET
• #HockeyAtHome: 2019 St. Louis Blues Virtual Reunion – 2 a.m. ET
• Top 10: Stanley Cup Moments – 2:30 a.m. ET

NHLPA board approves 24-team, return-to play-format

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We have our first step towards resuming the 2019-20 season with the approval of the return-to-play format by the NHLPA Executive Board.

The 31 NHL team representatives voted and a majority gave the thumbs up to the 24-team, conference-based proposal.

According to TVA’s Renaud Lavoie, the vote was 29-2 in favor.

Now the plan moves on to the Board of Governors for their approval.

From the NHLPA:

The Executive Board of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) has authorized further negotiations with the NHL on a 24-team return to play format to determine the winner of the 2020 Stanley Cup. Several details remain to be negotiated and an agreement on the format would still be subject to the parties reaching agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play.

If the BOG green lights it, the next steps would include figuring out proper safety protocols for all involved and how the hub city plan would work, among numerous other details.

Based on points percentage at the time of the March 12 NHL pause, the top four teams in each conference (Boston, Tampa, Washington, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas, Dallas) will receive a first-round bye. Round 1 will feature eight play-in matchups in a best-of-five series.

As the play-in round takes place, the eight conference leaders could potentially take part in a mini tournament that will determine the seeding for Round 2. Reseeding after the play-in round is another topic likely to be discussed.

Here’s what it might end up looking like:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
• Bruins
• Lightning
• Capitals
• Flyers

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Penguins
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Canadiens

(6) Hurricanes
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Rangers

(7) Islanders
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Panthers

(8) Maple Leafs
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Blue Jackets

WESTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
• Blues
• Avalanche
• Golden Knights
• Stars

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Oilers
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Blackhawks

(6) Predators
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Coyotes

(7) Canucks
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Wild

(8) Flames
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Jets

Games would be played without fans with teams based in hub cities potentially located in both the U.S. and Canada. Columbus, Las Vegas, and Edmonton are a few of the cities that have shown interested in playing host to playoff games.

Since the 24-team format entered the rumor mill, it’s received a mixed reaction from players.

“Twenty-four teams sounds like a lot of teams to me,” Capitals defenseman John Carlson told Mike Tirico on Thursday. “You have to make sure there is some level playing field in terms of intensity…So while 24 teams sounds like a lot, maybe due to logistics, that makes the most sense.”

“I will say that when it comes to the format I think it is almost impossible to make everyone happy … the situation is what it is,” Lars Eller of the Capitals said via the Washington Post. “It is far from perfect. We are going to manage the best we can and I do think we will come together and find a solution regarding that. It is not going to be easy.”

Kris Letang told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that Penguins players voted “yes” on the proposal citing “greater good for everyone.”

“At the end of the day, nobody gets exactly what they want,” Letang said. “But, we all want what is best for hockey and to continue to grow the game.”

MORE:
Predators’ Duchene: ‘You don’t want to have a COVID Cup’
Our Line Starts podcast: Evaluating fairness of 24-team NHL playoff

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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.

Long-term outlook for Washington Capitals: Key cap questions coming

Long-term outlook Washington Capitals Ovechkin Holtby
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Washington Capitals.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

Barring two very big names (which we’ll discuss in the next section), the Capitals have a lot of their name-brand players signed long-term.

It remains to be seen if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, depending upon how each integral player ages. Nicklas Backstrom is already 32, making a five-year extension with a $9.2M AAV pretty scary. Looking at other players with term, T.J. Oshie is 33, Lars Eller is 30, and John Carlson is 30.

Of course, Carlson looks like a steal at $8M so far, and those players have aged like fine wine — at least at this point.

If this group sustains reasonably well as they hit 30 and beyond, then the Capitals should be able to put puzzle pieces together to compete. At some point, you’d expect the run of division titles to end. Then again, like Alex Ovechkin scoring all of the goals, it just seems to keep happening.

Long-term needs for Capitals

I hesitated ever so slightly to put Ovechkin in the core section because, frankly, his future is a little bit unsettled.

The 34-year-old sees what felt like a lifetime contract end after 2020-21. Will the Capitals ask Ovechkin to take a pay cut from $9.54M? Would Ovechkin demand even more money? He’d certainly have options in the hard-to-imagine scenario where the situation gets sticky.

But there are certainly a number of scenarios where this plays out poorly for the Capitals and/or Ovechkin. Including if he stays, but steeply declines with an aging team.

The Capitals also need to settle their situation in net. It’s difficult to shake the impression that pending UFA Braden Holtby might be out. The 30-year-old’s best chance at a big payday likely lies somewhere other than D.C.

I mean … I think. The Capitals have shown an eagerness to keep key players together, sometimes producing some surprises. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen with Backstrom, and I also was mildly surprised when they brought Oshie back. None of this is to say that the moves were foolish; it’s just sometimes difficult to tell when a team might make the painful, cap-forced decision to let a cherished player walk away.

Because the danger is that the Capitals might squeeze out a much-needed injection of youth if they try to wrangle everyone. At his current trajectory, 24-year-old Jakub Vrana sure looks like he’ll be in line for a massive raise from $3.35M after 2020-21.

Letting Holtby go — and maybe getting lucky to shake loose a problem contract to Seattle — might be key in replenishing the ranks.

The Capitals either need to get creative to stay younger, or they might need to search for the Fountain of Youth.

Long-term strengths for Capitals

No doubt about it, the aging curve worries me for Washington. That said, it might not be ominous at the “guillotine hanging over your head” level.

For one thing, players like Backstrom could conceivably age well. He distinguishes himself as much for his hockey IQ as he does for his talent, so maybe Backstrom will parallel, say, Patrice Bergeron over the years.

Ilya Samsonov also represents a possible solution. He could end up being better than Holtby going forward, and as a 23-year-old who would be an RFA after 2020-21, the Capitals may also be able to extend Samsonov for a team-friendly price.

OK, the Capitals might be forced into such a scenario by cap realities. But, when you look at, say, the Blue Jackets waving goodbye to Sergei Bobrovsky and getting a better deal with young, cheap netminders, it’s certainly not a given that Washington won’t come out of the situation as winners.

In all honesty, Capitals management has earned a solid level of trust.

Yes, the Capitals’ farm system isn’t the greatest, as Scott Wheeler ranked it 29th back in January (sub required).

But considering how infrequently they’ve picked even as high as the teens in drafts, they’ve been able to unearth some gems here and there. And Brian MacLellan isn’t even trading them away as perilously as the Capitals once did with Filip Forsberg.

My guess is that the “bill is coming” for years of win-now approaches, so maybe that shrewdness will only go so far. Still, this franchise has consistently found ways to stay in the picture, and there’s some reason to believe that the party might go a few years longer.

MORE ON THE CAPITALS:

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.

Roundtable: The multi-part hockey docs we’d love to see made

With the Chicago Bulls’ “The Last Dance” documentary all the rage, what NHL story would you like to see made into a multi-part documentary?

SEAN: It’s not the sexiest of topics, but I’ve been pining for someone to do a documentary on Russ Conway’s great book, “Game Misconduct: Alan Eagleson and the Corruption of Hockey.” It is an incredible read about how one man, so powerful in the hockey world, stole so much from the players he was supposed to be assisting.

Imagine in 2020 the head of a players’ association, who was also an agent and power broker in the sport, scamming union members. The investigative work of Conway, who passed away in August, earned him a Pulitzer nomination and brought down Eagleson.

Bobby Orr, Rick Middleton, Brad Park were among those affected by Eagleson’s deeds. All it took to set Conway off on his investigation were complaints about the former union boss at a reunion of the Bruins’ 1970 Stanley Cup team.

“All I’ve done is connect the dots,” Conway told Michael Farber in 1996.

JAMES: The key isn’t just to find an interesting subject. It’s also to unearth something you can milk for 10 episodes. (OK, I imagine the MJ thing will get pretty granular. Are they going to roll out a timeline for zany Rodman hair colors and styles? Actually … that sounds great.)

To me, the clear answer is the Yzerman (player, not GM) era of the Red Wings. That run could provide a ton of fodder:

• Russian players making the (sometimes dangerous) jump to America. Really, you could cover multiple episodes on the team’s innovative international flair. Hakan Andersson deserves his own episode.

• You could have a trap episode revolving around the 1995 Devils upsetting the Red Wings. I’d even be willing to serve as a talking head who’d just complain endlessly about the trap. (Seriously it is/was the worst.)

• The Avalanche – Red Wings feud was nasty, memorable, and fun. Which Bad Boy Pistons/Pat Reilly Era Knicks would parallel which Avalanche, though? Claude Lemieux’s definitely Bill Laimbeer.

• Naturally, there’s plenty of material in the Red Wings’ many successes, from the titles to that lengthy run of playoff appearances. The letter could also give you more leeway to squeeze in some Mike Babcock drama.

• Like the Jordan era Bulls, the Red Wings’ glorious run didn’t really happen that long ago, but … hey, why not, right?

Honestly, I’m probably only hitting some of the high spots. Now I want the Red Wings to get their own indulgent docuseries.

ADAM: Just for my own entertainment, I want to see a documentary that focusses on some of the all-time great “tank” jobs in NHL history. Unfiltered, brutal honesty, an in-depth look at what was happening in Pittsburgh in 1983-84 when they new Mario Lemieux was lurking. I want to know what happened with the Ottawa Senators leading up to the Alexandre Daigle draft that ultimately brought us the draft lottery. Then, of course, the greatest tank job in recent memory: The Buffalo Sabres quest for Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel that had fans in the arena actively cheering AGAINST the team. Obviously the players on the ice are competing. That is how they are wired, what they are trained to do, and what they take pride in doing. But the front office always has a far more long-term goal. Give me the dirt! Who was doing what to put their team in a position to lose!

Think it would also be worth seeing a behind the scenes look at Vegas’ expansion draft process, how they incited panic among several teams and forced them into giving up way more assets and better players than they needed to.

That initial Vegas season (as well as the seasons since) was so improbable, so unexpected, so unbelievable, and so amazing that a deep look into that would be fascinating. The trade discussions, the initial strategy, and maybe the players they passed on in the expansion draft would be interesting to see.

JOEY: I’d love to see a 10-part documentary on the Washington Capitals. A documentary with the Caps would feature some great personalities (by hockey standards) like Alex Ovechkin, Bruce Boudreau, Tom Wilson and many others. Now that they’ve won a Stanley Cup, it’s easy to forget that they went through all those great regular seasons followed by playoff heartbreaks.

Think about it: You can start with the Capitals being swept in the 1998 Stanley Cup Final against Detroit. You can do a quick recap of the pre-Ovechkin years, followed by them drafting Ovechkin. You can then go through them blowing a 3-1 series lead to the eight seed, the Montreal Canadiens, in the 2010 Playoffs and you can build up your documentary with each playoff failure after that. Getting an in-depth look at all those battles between Washington and Pittsburgh would be special. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin vs. Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. That’s must-see TV!

The director can also tackle the “is Ovechkin finished?” storyline after he scored “just” 33 goals during the 2016-17 season.

You can build up the drama throughout their run to the Stanley Cup. They were down 2-0 in the first round to Columbus when Lars Eller scored the game-winner in Game 3. There’s more drama right there.

And then the pay-off to the whole thing could be a behind-the-scenes look at how the Capitals partied after they won it all.

I’d definitely watch that.

SCOTT: I wish there was more to the Jalen Ramsey story and we could explore how he faired in his experiment learning the game of hockey in six months.

But on a serious note, I would be very interested in seeing a 10-part documentary on the construction of the Vegas Golden Knights and how they reached the Stanley Cup Final in their first season of operation.

The topic is still pretty recent, but assuming this show wouldn’t come out for a few years. I’d be interested to see interviewes with George McPhee during the scouting process and how he identified talent that fit together so perfectly. It is not often a general manager has a chance to build a roster from scratch and learning about thought process would be a captivating tale.

It would be fascinating to get a behind the scenes look at the process they used to rank NHL talent in the seasons prior to the expansion draft while balancing their ability to prepare for the 2017 NHL Draft.

The season had a few storylines as well, and could make up the last few episodes, but the majority of the documentary should focus on the construction of the roster.

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Kovalchuk finds home with Capitals after whirlwind journey

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ARLINGTON, Va. — Ilya Kovalchuk and Brenden Dillon broke bread in a Northern Virginia restaurant, leaving their temporary home away from home hotel and swapping stories.

The Washington Capitals’ two newcomers bonded over their shared experience of playing in the NHL and adjusting to a new life. That’s just about where the similarities end because Kovalchuk’s journey has taken him to the ends of the earth and back.

Kovalchuk’s trade to the Capitals marked another twist in a career ranging from national hero to aging reclamation project. A gold medal winner and Olympic MVP in 2018, the once-feared Russian sniper was a disappointment in Los Angeles, a revelation in Montreal and is now just one of the guys with the Capitals in his pursuit of the Stanley Cup.

”It’s no more trade deadlines,” the 36-year-old winger said with a wry smile. ”It’s always new. You come, you meet the new people. For me it was easier because I knew the coach, I knew a lot of guys on the team. But still to learn the system and get used to the way the guys play and all the routine, it’s a lot. But it’s OK. I love it.”

Kovalchuk is loving the sport again on a team with good friend Alex Ovechkin and their fellow countrymen, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov and Ilya Samsonov. He also knows coach Todd Reirden because the two played together with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2001-02 and became fast friends.

A homesick Kovalchuk left the NHL in 2013 and played five seasons back home in the Kontinental Hockey League. Once he decided to return, the road back wasn’t smooth.

Kovalchuk didn’t play up to the expectations of an $18.75 million, three-year contract signed with L.A in the summer of 2018; he put up just 43 points in 81 games while struggling under two coaches. He agreed to mutually terminate his contract in December after it was clear the fit with the Kings wasn’t a good one.

”It just didn’t work,” Kings general manager Rob Blake said. ”You’ve got to be able to cut a tie and move on.”

Kovalchuk signed with the Canadiens for a pro-rated league minimum $700,000 salary and thrived. He saw more ice time, scored three game-winning goals and recouped his reputation in NHL circles.

Montreal coach Claude Julien called Kovalchuk ”the ultimate pro” and ”an easy guy to like.” A pre-trade deadline game at Washington gave Capitals brass a chance to see what Kovalchuk could do and ponder what he might bring to a title contender.

It was clear this wasn’t the same Kovalchuk who languished in a limited role in L.A.

”To completely turn it around the way he did, to be as productive and to have as much impact as he had on the Montreal team both on and off the ice, their manager (Marc) Bergevin, he couldn’t say enough good things about the character of the guy and the way he handled himself,” Capitals GM Brian MacLellan said. ”So many good things have been said about him on and off the ice in Montreal that we basically thought it was a no-brainer to add him.”

Kovalchuk also had to make a decision. Montreal had deals worked out to trade him to Boston or Washington, and he chose the Capitals over the NHL-leading Bruins.

Kovalchuk said he liked the way the Capitals played. It also didn’t hurt that he’d be the team’s fifth Russian player and has talked with Ovechkin about being teammates from the time they were teenagers.

”You never know what’s gonna happen, but yeah sometime in the summer (we said) it would be nice like if you’re gonna be one day on Washington Capitals team,” said Ovechkin, who MacLellan consulted before trading a third-round pick for Kovalchuk. ”I said: ‘Yeah, let’s do it. If we can take him, why not?”’

Reirden, who learned all his Russian from Kovalchuk (and helped teach his friend English), has already experimented with a line of Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Kovalchuk at times, and the trio combined to produce a goal in a win at Minnesota.

What better way to make Kovalchuk comfortable?

”He may be old for hockey player, but inside it doesn’t seem like he’s much older than us,” said Kuznetsov, who is nine years younger than Kovalchuk. ”We feel like we’re same age and that’s always easy to find a way and it’s always translate on the ice. If you can find out how to communicate with a guy off the ice, then it will be much easier on the ice.”

Kovalchuk is trying to blend in and stay out of the way. He has connected with Dillon in large part because his Russian friends already have established lives in the D.C. area. Kovalchuk doesn’t want to interfere with that and is biding time until his family, still living in California, visits over spring break.

Playing mostly on the third line with Carl Hagelin and Lars Eller, Kovalchuk is making a bigger impact that he perhaps realizes.The Caps’ 23-year-old rookie goaltender, Samsonov, needs to only observe Kovalchuk to learn more about how he conducts himself.

”It’s important for me because I see how he get practice or warmup, how he’s ready in the game,” Samsonov said. ”He’s very good for our team.”

Only 22 active players have played more regular-season games than Kovalchuk without winning the Cup, and that’s a hunger Reirden sees in his former teammate. That experience is something Capitals players remember before winning it all two years ago.

”He’s experienced, so it make us better, make us deeper and stronger,” Orlov said. ”It’s only gonna help us.”