<
>

Alex Ovechkin only cares about team success

Dave Sandford/NHLI/Getty Images

LAS VEGAS -- There’s never a dull moment when it comes to Alex Ovechkin, who was sporting a new Washington Capitals jersey, ball cap and matching shoes on Tuesday.

Nominated for the Hart Trophy -- he’s already won it three times but is a long shot this year with Montreal netminder Carey Price the odds-on favorite -- Ovechkin spoke candidly about the Capitals’ disappointing exit from the playoffs in the second round.

The Caps led the New York Rangers 3-1 in the series and couldn’t close the deal, losing in overtime in Game 7 at Madison Square Garden.

"I think every year we get better and better," Ovechkin said.

"But I think last year we had a very good team. We were together [in having the same goal] and the chances were there but the hockey gods turned around and took it away. But again, life goes on and we go forward."

Ovechkin, who turned a minus-35 rating in 2013-14 to a plus-10 rating in 2014-15 under new coach Barry Trotz, credited the former Nashville Predators bench boss for turning around the identity of the Capitals.

"Everything is good," Ovechkin said. "For us, for me and for all the guys, all the changes were in a good way. The team was moving forward. Last year was a better experience and now we have to take it to the next level.

"Just the culture [Trotz] brings to the organization. Obviously he brings lots of experience. The relationship with the boys, the fans, the CEO is unbelievable. I think the fans love it and we love it too."

Ovechkin was the NHL’s only 50-goal scorer last season, and he was also nominated by his peers as a finalist for the Ted Lindsay Award as the players’ MVP.

Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews had high praise for Ovechkin’s evolving game.

"He’s proved that [he's] getting better as far as his team game and knowing the importance of being reliable both ways," Toews said.

"I think everyone saw that improvement in his game this year that no matter what he’s going to continue to score goals, that’s what he does. Everyone knows he’s the captain in Washington, he wants to win, he wants to find a way to have team success in the playoffs. You could see he definitely changed his game a little bit and started to improve in that regards. Their team success mirrored the way he played this year."

But Ovechkin said the personal accolades pale in comparison to the disappointment of not having team success in the playoffs, something that has eluded the Capitals since he arrived in the league in 2005-06.

"Personal stuff is great, but from a team standpoint we didn’t do a great job," he said. "We couldn’t close out the series against the Rangers. Disappointing. But it is what it is."

As for his own maturity, the 29-year-old acknowledged he is likely making different decisions off the ice too.

"Ovi always the same," he said. "Same age, same mind. But as you get older, you mature. Maybe five years ago I might have done different things when I was here [in Las Vegas]."