Alex Ovechkin on criticism of his game, meddlesome coaches and Sochi Olympic pressure (Puck Daddy Interview)

Dmitry Chesnokov
September 16, 2013

Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin won his third Hart Trophy last summer in a very close vote. His play in the second half of the lockout-shortened season brought flashback of the “old” Ovechkin – the one so many loved and adored. The one before all of the “he is so predictable,” “he is so overrated,” “he will never be that good again” comments.

The higher you fly, the harder you fall, as they said, and at time it looked like Ovechkin may not reach that high bar he set for himself.

Going into the new season, however, Ovechkin is more focused than he has been in a while. He looked relaxed and at ease last week meeting with the media when the Capitals opened their training camp. It looked like he was happy again: happy with his game, happy with his coach.

We caught up with him for a few minutes to talk about the past, the present and the future.

Q. Are the expectations going into this season any different than before?

OVECHKIN: “With the new division we are in, and the Olympic Games coming up, the expectations are that the seasons will be a long one and a difficult one.”

You picked it up during the second half of the shortened season. The hope is the summer break will not slow you down?

“We were playing so well, and we were really looking towards the playoffs last year. It’s not that this break would slow up down. Last season, even though it was short, it was very difficult for us. We did not play well. But we reached certain conclusions and started playing well. The hope is that momentum will carry forward for us.”

Is the weight of expectations every year getting heavier for the Capitals?

“I wouldn’t say that this is something new for us. This kind of pressure is something we are used to, to be honest. We just need to get it together and do what we know, because we know how to do it.”

What about you personally?

“It is not a secret that I want to get better every day with every game. But there are a lot of factors to that. The most important of all is for me to figure myself out.”

How much attention did you pay to comments like ‘Ovechkin should do this, change that’ about his game?

“If you think it only started not long ago, it is not the case. All of these comments and suggestions started on the first day I took to the ice in the NHL. It is something I learned to live with. It is something I learned not to pay attention to.”

Last few years you didn’t play at the level you set for yourself.

“There were a few situations and issues in the last few years that had to do with coaches as well as other minor things. Right now I don’t think there will be any problems at all.”

You are at the mid-point of your contract. Did you have some time to reflect?

“I think the first half of my contract can be considered a success if you take into account personal achievements. But the time right now is to concentrate on winning with the team, winning the most important trophy a team can win – the Stanley Cup. That’s the goal for the second half.”

Do you consider yourself the New Sergei Fedorov? You got older, wiser…

“Well, it is evident that I am not 21 anymore. The time when you rush full speed ahead, all guns drawn without looking back is behind me now. It is very different now. I am also feeling very comfortable in the role of the team captain.”

Philosophically speaking, do you have any regrets looking back at the first half of your contract?

“Nothing at all.”

In your own words, how can you explain to a North American fan what the Olympic Games mean to a Russian player?

“It is very difficult to explain. They don’t have something to compare it to. The Olympic Games is the most important tournament for Russian guys. But it is difficult to explain, and difficult to understand.”

Is the loss to Canada in Vancouver still deep in your hearts?

“I don’t want to talk about it. So much has been said that I don’t think I can add anything to that.”

Is it in your heads now as a team that you just can’t seem to go deep in the playoffs?

“I wouldn’t say so. The first thought is always about making the playoffs. That’s the tough part. And once you get there, only then you can allow yourself to start thinking how you are going to play in the playoffs against other teams. And a lot is left to chance then. There’s an element of luck as well: sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you do not. There are a lot of other factors as well, including officiating, how a goaltender plays, how the forwards play. There are also a lot of things you have to forget so that they don’t affect you to make you play better.”

Is the Metropolitan Division too tough for this Capitals team?

“Why is that? It doesn’t matter what anyone says. It’s a lot of people’s job to voice their opinion. It doesn’t matter what division you are in. You must prove that you deserve to be where you are every game. The proof is not offered with words, but with action.”