Alex Ovechkin

Previewing the 2019-20 St. Louis Blues

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, looking at whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or worse: The Blues are bringing back mostly the same team that won the Stanley Cup just a few months ago and that is generally a pretty good sign for a team’s chances. Whether or not they are any better or worse depends on your perspective and what your expectations are. There is a very good chance they finish as a better regular season team, but end up doing worse in the playoffs for no other reason than winning the Stanley Cup two years in a row is a brutally difficult task. If they finish with, let’s say, 105 or 106 points but get eliminated in Round 2 or 3 a year after winning the Stanley Cup are Blues fans going to be disappointed with that result? Going to guess they will not be.

Strengths: Their defensive play. They are a lockdown team that is one of the best in the league at limiting shot attempts against and as long as they get competent goaltending are one of the toughest teams in the league to score against. They have two great blue liners in Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko, do not really have a true weakness anywhere on their defense, and have one of the best shutdown centers in the league in Ryan O'Reilly. Their other strength: Having one of the league’s elite goal-scorers in Vladimir Tarasenko. Since the start of the 2014-15 season only Alex Ovechkin (236) and John Tavares (183) have more goals than Tarasenko’s 182. Tarasenko has also played in fewer games than both during that stretch.

Weaknesses: It is probably more of a question mark than a “weakness,” but what will Jordan Binnington be able to do over a full season? His call-up was a turning point in the season and he fixed the team’s biggest early season flaw. But can he play at that level from the start of the year and maintain through the playoffs? That is the big unanswered question for the Blues entering the season and it will go a long way toward determining what they are capable of.

[MORE: Three questions | Under Pressure | X-Factor]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Craig Berube has been behind the team’s bench for less than a year and in that time the Blues went 38-19-6 during the regular season (that is a 106 point pace over 82 games) and then won the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. His coaching hot seat rating is a 1 out of 10. It is probably even lower than that.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Robert Thomas, Jaden Schwartz, and Robby Fabbri are three players to watch.

The final numbers for Thomas’ rookie season do not really jump off the page, but keep in mind that he was 19 years old and playing meaningful minutes for a championship team. That is impressive, and even though it did not always result in goals or points you could see the potential he has and why the Blues are so excited about what he is capable of in the NHL. Does he take a big step in year two?

Schwartz had what was probably the worst regular season of his career offensively, scoring just 11 goals in 69 games, a massive drop from what he normally produces. It was almost entirely the result of a 6 percent shooting percentage that was entirely driven by a lot of bad luck. Every other aspect of his performance was right in line with what the Blues expect and it was only a matter of time until he bounced back. He did just that in the playoffs with 12 goals in 26 games, exceeding his regular season total. There is no reason to believe he will not be a 25-30 goal scorer again this season.

Fabbri is going to be fascinating just to see if he can get his career back on track. He is talented and had such a promising start four years ago only to be robbed of three years due to injuries. Can he get some better injury luck and still become the player the Blues hoped he would be?

Playoffs or lottery: As long as Binnington does not have a massive regression there is no reason this is not a playoff team again. They were built to win a year ago and the slow start in the first half was simply the result of not having any goaltending. Once they fixed that, combined with the improvement they saw under Berube, this team was a machine. They are not going away.

More
Blues turn back the clock with alternate jersey
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Ovechkin seems comfortable chasing Gretzky’s goals record

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Considering the “Aww, shucks” demeanor of many NHL players, it’s still sometimes surprising to hear someone speak the truth in a matter-of-fact way.

Of course you’d think Alex Ovechkin would want to someday break Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record of 894, but plenty of players would mumble some sort of cliche about it. Yet, at 236 goals away at 658, it’s at least a conceivable goal, and it sounds like Ovechkin’s at least willing to state the obvious: that it’s at least in the back of his mind.

Elliotte Friedman pointed out that Ovechkin stated as much in the latest edition of “31 Thoughts.”

“Of course it matters,” Ovechkin said when asked about Gretzky’s record, “But like I said, I’m not going to score 300 goals in two years. It’s going to take five or six years. I have to be healthy enough to do that. I don’t want to play just for that record. I want to be healthy, I want to have fun, I want to enjoy the moment when I’m on the ice.”

… While Ovechkin acknowledged the possibility to Sportsnet radio hosts Tim & Sid:

(“We have to talk about something,” indeed.)

With unique talents like Gretzky and Ovechkin, extraordinary numbers and feats start to feel expected, and ordinary.

For most NHL forwards, 236 goals would make for a really nice career, let alone a number to strive for when you’ve already played 1,000+ NHL games, won multiple high-level awards, and a Stanley Cup. That goal is especially lofty when you realize Ovechkin will turn 34 on Sept. 17.

But considering the machine-like scoring of the Russian Machine Who Never Breaks, it’s irresistible to forecast Ovechkin flirting with 900.

For those who truly cannot resist, consider the paces Ovechkin would need to reach 894 from his current 658:

Four seasons: 59 goals per year.

Five seasons: A bit more than 47 goals per year (47.2).

Six seasons: Slightly less than 40 goals per season (39.33).

Seven seasons: Almost 34 goals per season (33.7).

Eight seasons: Essentially a 30-goal average (29.5).

Nine seasons: Slightly more than 26 goals per year (26.2).

Ten seasons: 23.6 goals per year (or about 24).

The interesting thing about stretching that pace out is that, while Ovechkin playing longer into a career would increase the odds by sheer volume, to some extent it does a better job of putting the monumental task into perspective. If Ovechkin got hurt or was slowed, he’d have to remain at a high level for a long time, or manage to maintain his currently extremely high level for a considerable run.

(Consider that, in 2018-19, only 87 players finished with at least 23 goals.)

Yet, if any player can actually meet or exceed 894 goals, it’s Ovechkin. Remarkably, he’s still slightly ahead of Gretzky’s sniping pace, as Ovechkin’s 658 goals in 1,084 games puts him at .61 goals-per-game, while Gretzky’s 894 in 1,487 is slightly behind at .60.

This race has been discussed before, including at PHT, and will almost certainly be a topic as Ovechkin’s career continues, what with Ovechkin coming off of a 51-goal, Maurice Richard Trophy-winning season in 2018-19.

Whether Ovechkin makes it or falls short, it should be fun to watch.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Who can challenge Alex Ovechkin for NHL’s goal crown this season?

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Alex Ovechkin has been the NHL’s most dominant goal-scorer from the moment he entered the league and has a chance to finish his career as the league’s all-time goal-scoring leader. Even if he doesn’t eclipse Wayne Gretzky’s mark of 894, there were still be an argument to be made that he is the best ever at putting the puck in the net when you account for the era they played in. He has already finished as the leading scorer eight times, including six of the past seven seasons.

It has become a foregone conclusion that he is going to score at least 50 goals and outscore everyone. This past season the gap closed a little bit as Edmonton’ Leon Draisaitl finished just one goal behind and John Tavares four goals back.

Will anyone be able to finally overthrow him at the top this season?

Let’s take a look at some contenders.

The top contenders

Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs: They key for Matthews will be staying healthy. Over his first three years in the league he has scored at a 42-goal pace over 82 games. That is the good news. The bad news is he has missed 36 games over the past two seasons. He is just now entering what should be his peak years in the league and (if he stays healthy) might have a shot at 50 goals.

Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets: He was expected to challenge Ovechkin a year ago, especially after an 18-goal month of November. But his shooting percentage cratered for the remainder of the season and he finished with only 30 goals. He is too talented for that to happen again. Expect big things from him this season.

Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning: Since Oveckin entered the NHL at the start of the 2005-06 season, only five players other than him have finished a season as the league’s leading goal-scorer (and only three of those five are still active). Stamkos is one of those players, and he has actually accomplished the feat twice. He is still one of the league’s best players, is on an offensive powerhouse team, and is coming off of a 45-goal season. He is always a threat.

The next tier

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: He is the best player in the world, but he is probably more of a playmaker than a pure “goal scorer.” Still, he has topped the 40-goal mark in each of the past two seasons and is entering the peak offensive production period of his career. He’s got a few 50-goal seasons in his future.

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche: His shot volume has skyrocketed the past two years and even finished with a league-high 385 shots on goal this past season. He’s a 40-plus goal guy and if he sees just a little bit of a spike in his shooting percentage to go with that added shot volume he could be capable of some special things.

Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning: He is one of the elite players in the league so he always has to be in the discussion, but I am not sure if he is going to be quite as dominant as he was a season ago.

The sleeper

David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins: He only needed 66 games to score 38 goals for the Bruins a year ago (a 47-goal pace over 82 games) and is quickly developing into an elite offensive player on a Stanley Cup contender. As long as he gets significant time next to Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand he is going to be surrounded by All-Stars and put into a great scoring environment.

Maybe not as close as they were

Leon Drasaitl, Edmonton Oilers: He was the runner-up a year ago, finishing just one goal behind Ovechkin. He is a great talent, a great player, and plays next to the league’s best playmaker. I am just not sure if he scores on 20 percent of his shots again. That might drop him down a tier or two on the goal leaderboard.

John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs: His first year in Toronto produced a career high in goals (47) and his highest ever finish in the goal race. He has talent around him and is a great player, but like Draisaitl I feel like there might be a bit of a shooting percentage regression coming in his future this season. Even if that only knocks a few goals off of his total, that might keep him out of the race.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Caps’ Ovechkin leaner if not lighter going into 15th season

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CHICAGO (AP) – Alex Ovechkin doesn’t think he’s any lighter going into his 15th NHL training camp.

”The same 260,” he said.

That might be a slight exaggeration for a player listed at 235 pounds, though the Washington Capitals captain worked to be leaner and quicker. When the season starts, he’ll be 34.

He’s made a concerted effort with different summer training to keep up with the ever-quickening pace of the league while remaining undecided about his long-term future.

”The game is getting faster, so you have to get ready for more speed in the game and don’t try to lift too much weight and just be quicker,” Ovechkin said.

The Russian star who was named playoff MVP in 2018 for leading the Capitals to the Stanley Cup plays more like a freight train than a Porsche. His physicality makes him stand out in the modern NHL trending toward speed and skill and has helped make him the best goal-scorer of this generation.

Ovechkin’s 658 goals put him 12th on the all-time list, and there’s still speculation he could catch Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 if he keeps producing at his now typical level. It could take Ovechkin playing until he’s 40 to even approach Gretzky, and he’s not ready to commit to anything beyond the two years left on his current contract.

”After two years, let’s talk,” Ovechkin said Friday at the annual NHL/NHLPA preseason player media tour. ”We’ll see what’s gonna happen in two years. Of course, I want to play till I can’t play.”

Ovechkin is showing no signs of slowing down. He scored 51 goals last season and was the oldest to eclipse the 50-goal mark since Phil Esposito in 1974-75.

He and the Capitals could agree to a contract extension as soon as July 1, the same situation they’re in with longtime running mate Nicklas Backstrom and goaltender Braden Holtby. If that’s on his mind, Ovechkin isn’t showing it.

”I’m not close to that,” he said.

Ovechkin could go the way of countrymen Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk and go home to play in the KHL once this contract is up. Or he could be like San Jose’s Joe Thornton and go year to year based on how he’s feeling.

”I don’t want to be the guy who go out there and just like play (like) a joke,” Ovechkin said. ”If I’m gonna be in the same level, yeah.”

If Ovechkin maintains this level, 894 isn’t out of the question. If he keeps up his trademark durability, he’ll surpass 700 goals this season and isn’t ruling out taking a shot at Gretzky.

”It’s always a chance,” he said. ”I have to play the same way, I have to do the same thing, I have to use my chances and we will see.”

Ovechkin now has his own cereal: Ovi-O’s

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Honestly, there may never be enough strange pro athlete product endorsements, particularly when some of the proceeds go to charities.

That thought comes to mind upon the delightful unveiling of “Ovi-O’s,” Giant Food’s Alex Ovechkin-themed cereal. The flavor of the cereal is honey nut, which seems a little mundane for such a vibrant personality as Ovechkin, but we’ll let it slide because a portion of the proceeds from the limited-edition cereal will go to Maryland’s Children’s Cancer Foundation, Inc. The cereal goes on sale on Sept. 17, when Ovechkin will (somehow, already) turn 34.

The box will be hard to miss thanks to Ovechkin’s smile:

As you might expect, footage of Ovechkin eating the cereal (and occasionally failing to eat the cereal) is good fun, too:

To add some strangeness to the promotion, there’s apparently an augmented reality game to accompany the cereal. Let’s imagine it’s an “Ovechkin’s office simulator.” Via the press release:

In addition, the Capitals teamed up with Balti Virtual to bring the Ovi O’s box to life with an augmented reality game, Ovi O’s Slapshot presented by Giant, using Snapchat’s Lens Studio. Customers who have purchased Ovi O’s can scan the box in Snapchat to access this interactive hockey game which gives fans the ability to control Ovechkin as he shoots the cereal at moving targets. After time runs out, players can share their score on social media to compete with friends or scan the box again to keep playing.

Again, stranger product endorsements usually are sequestered to players appearing in low-budget local business commercials, but sometimes we get moments that transcend athletes awkwardly reading off of cue cards, as if they’re in real-life ads from “The Detroiters.”

To me, it’s tough to top Jaromir Jagr having his own peanut butter with secret healing powers. Every now and then, we also had other NHL players getting their own answer to “Flutie Flakes,” with Brett Hull’s Frosted Flakes ad being especially nifty:

(Glorious, even beyond the kid with the bowl cut.)

Since the world needs more esoteric cereals inspired by hockey players, we thought we’d throw out a few NHL-themed suggestions:

Connor’s Cereal of Sadness: Really, you can change the name, but crucially, it would have to parallel Connor McDavid‘s experiences with the Oilers. In other words, one great ingredient surrounded by a bunch of slop. Maybe it could be Raisin Bran, only it was a box full of the blandest bran flakes available with just one raisin?

(OK, OK, Leon Draisaitl could make it two raisins.)

Gen-o’s: The Pittsburgh Penguins couldn’t possibly stand pat while their rival Capitals have a cereal, right?

Since Sidney Crosby hasn’t signed off on being a cover star of an EA NHL video game, let’s assume that only Evgeni Malkin would be game for the cereal box treatment. Bonus points if the cereal is black and gold.

UFA Flakes: You don’t realize that they’ve already expired, so you can only chew on with regret as you ponder their cheaper, tastier days.

Voodoo Goalies: Keeping with the mascot theme of “Count Chocula,” Voodoo Goalies presents a mystery with every box. Some bowls are worthy of a Vezina; others just ruin your day.

Brent Burns Bran: All kinds of weird stuff in here. Is that beef jerky?

Mitch Marner Munch: Taking forever to hit shelves, and we get the sneaking suspicion that it’s holding up other cereals from returning to stores, too.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.