- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2017

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin stepped to the podium and was wearing a baggy red hoodie. With gray peppered throughout his hair, Ovechkin began his 13th training camp Friday with the Capitals, two days away from his 32nd birthday.

The hoodie was loose fitting and his teammates weeks earlier observed a slimmer Ovechkin. When asked about his weight, Ovechkin dispelled the rumors — no, he has not lost weight.

But in the process of talking to reporters, Ovechkin might have coined a new slogan for the 2017-18 Capitals.

“We’re not gonna be suck this year,” Ovechkin said.

T-shirts on a fan website were already made before the day was over.

The 2016 Chicago Cubs rallied around their “Try Not to Suck” slogan, inspired by a quote from shortstop Javier Baez in 2015. Chicago wore T-shirts featuring the message during spring training. It was simple enough for the city and the players to get behind, and the Cubs won the World Series.

Ovechkin’s phrase, though, was not planned. His words were part of a larger string of thoughts on Washington’s upcoming season. The Capitals lost major contributors in free agency, shipped Marcus Johansson out of town and lost Nate Schmidt in the expansion draft.

The Capitals will be fine, Ovechkin said.

“We still have a core group of guys, we have probably two best goalies in the league, we have great centermen,” he said. “The spot what we lost, we still have a young group of guys who can jump in on our team and play well.”

Ovechkin, who turns 32 on Sunday, said he spent the summer avoiding lifting weights and focusing more on running and movement training. In Russia, he even met with Capitals coach Barry Trotz, who was in town visiting his son, shortly after Ovechkin’s wedding ceremony. “Still alive?” Trotz asked. “Want to meet up?”

The two met for an hour and a half, discussing last season at length. Trotz went over expectations, primarily making Ovechkin a great athlete again.

Ovechkin was essentially challenged to change his game in two ways. The first? Adapt with his age to the modern pace of the NHL. The 6-foot-3 forward saw a career-low 18:22 per game in ice time last year. Ovechkin needed to get in better shape, faster.

The second way tied to the first. If Ovechkin improves his conditioning, his production should increase. Ovechkin had 33 goals last year in 82 games — his lowest pace in five seasons.

Before the 2016-17 season, Ovechkin led the league in goals for the previous three seasons with at least 50 goals each time. No other player reached 50 during that stretch. Trotz said they were looking for a career-year from Ovechkin.

“You always ask players to evolve,” Trotz said. “What can you add to your game that you haven’t added? In his case, the game is getting quick and he has to stay relevant from the quickness aspect.”

Because Justin Williams signed with the Carolina Hurricanes in free agency and Washington traded Johansson to the New Jersey, the Capitals needed more production to come from somewhere.

Is it still possible to score 50 goals in the NHL? Ovechkin said the mark depends on how you play.

As for speed, the problem isn’t exclusive to Ovechkin. Nicklas Backstrom, the Capitals’ other star, said he’s always trying to get faster as a hockey player — including mentally. The faster you process information, he said, the quicker you can react on the ice.

T.J. Oshie said the speed trend is here to stay.

“It’s going to continue going that way,” Oshie said. “And I think O realizes that.”

Ovechkin didn’t elaborate much on his offseason routine. He said he feels the same as he did last year, adding, “I don’t think you have to be 100 percent ready for training camp.”

“He looks happier,” general manager Brian MacLellan said.

Ovechkin came back to the District in late August, earlier than previous years, but he downplayed the significance of the move.

Instead, he maintained he knows what his focus is. Nothing has changed in that regard.

“Goals is not my goal right now,” Ovechkin said. “The goal: I want to win a Stanley Cup, and that’s my priority.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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