Capitals return to ice with Stanley Cup target on their backs

September 16, 2018

Who knew that one of the biggest draws at the Washington Redskins’ home opener would be a hockey player?

Alex Ovechkin spent Sunday afternoon at FedEx Field to cheer on the Redskins and help with the pregame coin toss.

The positive response he received from fans was another reminder of which Washington team has delivered the city’s biggest championship in 25 years not the Redskins, but the Capitals.

When they opened training camp at MedStar Capitals Iceplex on Friday, the discussion was a mixture of how the Capitals will stay motivated now that they’ve won a Stanley Cup and how the short summer will affect their conditioning before the regular season opens Oct. 3.

“I was talking to Nick (Backstrom) on the ice, and it kind of feels like we’re onto the next series after Vegas. Like, ‘Here we go again,’” T.J. Oshie said.

The Capitals are coming off short rest, compared to most NHL teams, because they were playing meaningful hockey games as recently as June. But to Oshie, that only meant the Capitals were in game shape for a longer amount of time, even though the playoffs made the summer shorter.

And what a summer it was. The Capitals partied so hard with the Cup that its keeper, Philip Pritchard, had to begin asking them not to do more keg stands with it. But players took the opportunity Friday to say that social media exaggerated how much they actually celebrated.

Now that they’ve tasted a championship the franchise’s first in 43 years the Capitals don’t want for motivation to repeat.

“It’s such an amazing feeling that you can’t describe, but the only way to get there again is to continue playing good hockey,” Tom Wilson said.

The forward went on to offer a surprising compliment to the Capitals’ rival and a team with a particular distaste for Wilson the Pittsburgh Penguins, who won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017.

“I don’t know why I’m saying this, but you respect a team like Pittsburgh,” Tom Wilson said. “When you see a team repeat like that, you know, it’s so hard to win, let alone to do it twice. It’s a huge achievement. That’s one that we’re ready for.”

New coach Todd Reirden said he consulted with people who have coached defending champions across other teams and sports, including football, seeking advice for how to approach the unique situation of coaching a defending champ.

“Some teams that haven’t had as much success in the years following a Cup win, they eased into training camp and they ended up kind of chasing it from the beginning of the year,” Reirden said Friday. “For me, it’s really important that I set that tone today. I don’t think there’s any question that our guys came to work today and it wasn’t an easy day, and that was by design and it’s going to be that way to start the season.”

Reirden’s promotion from associate coach to head coach in the wake of Barry Trotz’s resignation provides a new element in the locker room. There’s also Ovechkin’s new situation his place in NHL history no longer risks questioning from fans who discounted him before he hoisted a Cup.

Ovechkin echoed his teammates in saying the toughest part about going back-to-back will be that “every team is going to try to beat us.”

“But, for us, we just have to play the same way, at the same pace and try to win every game especially at the beginning of the year, because if you don’t win those game in the end you’re probably going to miss a couple points and you’re going to go, ‘Oh, Jesus, why did we have a bad start?’” Ovechkin said.

Ovechkin and several other veterans did not make the trip Sunday as the Capitals opened their preseason at the Boston Bruins. Brett Connolly scored, but the Capitals lost 2-1 after a shootout. They will host the Bruins at Capital One Arena for another game Tuesday.

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