The Washington Times - September 17, 2011, 02:24PM

It was Alex Ovechkin’s 26th birthday Saturday as the Capitals opened training camp, and the captain got the gift of a conditioing test and a surprise from teammates.

As Ovechkin was talking to reporters, Nicklas Backstrom sneaked in and delivered a towel full of shaving cream along with the message, “Happy Birthday.”

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But well before that, Ovechkin got to experience the back-and-forth, back-and-forth speed testing drills along with teammates. He was crushing Mike Knuble, Alexander Semin, Brooks Laich and others in his heat at first, but Ovechkin slowed down in the final few laps.

Yeah the first two times I was flying, so I thought, ‘Oh it’s going to be easy,’ ” Ovechkin said. “But after that I couldn’t feel my legs and I said ‘Jesus Christ, screw that!’ ”

Coach Bruce Boudreau didn’t miss an opportunity to let Ovechkin know he wasn’t skating all the way to the goal line.

I think everyone has to push a little harder than normally,” Ovechkin said.

Ovechkin couldn’t keep pace with Laich as the conditioning stints wore on, but there was no mistaking Ovechkin looked good. Laich almost seemed to take offene when asked about his captain’s fitness level.

A lot of people talk about Ovi’s conditioning. Ovi plays the most minutes of any forward in the league. I don’t know where this conditioning thing really comes from,” he said. “He plays as hard as anybody, and he plays more minutes than anybody.”

In good spirits, Ovechkin – like the rest of his teammates – was happy that the sprints were out of the way.

It’s always good when you finish up and get a massage and relax,” he said. “Right now it’s time to go home, relax a little bit and have a nap.”