Adam Oates remembers driving to the old Cap Centre with Sergei Gonchar and trying to engage the young Russian in conversation.
Tonight, the 50-year-old Oates will be coaching against the 39-year-old Gonchar when the Capitals visit the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place [7 p.m. Capitals Central, CSN].
“It reminds me how young he was and how old I am,” Oates said with a laugh. “Because he’s so quiet people forget what a tremendous player he was.”
And still is.
On Tuesday night, Gonchar, who played parts of 10 seasons with the Caps from 1994-2004, passed Sergei Zubov as the highest-scoring Russian defenseman in NHL history. The Chelyabinsk native has 216 goals and 556 assists for 772 points in 1,171 NHL games during an 18-year career with the Caps, Bruins, Penguins and Senators.
And he shows no signs of slowing. Gonchar enters tonight’s game with two goals and 22 assists for 24 pponts, tied for ninth among NHL defensemen.
“For an older player, if you have the skills you can do it.,” said Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson, who is 40 years old. “But you have to look after yourself. If you train properly and eat properly you can still perform and he can do all those things really good.
“He’s a guy you want on the ice in pressure moments because he’s so poised with the puck and he can make things happen offensively. With that experience comes calmness.”
Gonchar’s production has been key for the Senators, who will be without Erik Karlsson the remainder of the season with an Achilles laceration.
Oates says that when he watches Gonchar he still sees the attributes he brought to the Capitals when they were teammates for five years.
“The same skill set you see now,” Oates said. “He was a big part of our team, he really was. A big part of our power play. He’s been a top defenseman who handles minutes and stayed healthy for a long, long time.”
How long can it continue? Gonchar is in the final year of a contract that pays him $5.5 million. He said Thursday he’ll evaluate his future after this season.
“Down the road, after the season is over, I’ll sit down and make a decision,” he said.
“My body allows me [to play]. I get up in the morning and I feel like I can do it and I still enjoy it. That’s the important thing and that’s probably what keeps me going. I enjoy being out there.”