Alex Ovechkin has had three cracks at an Olympic medal in his hockey career and has come up short each time, finishing fourth in 2006, sixth in 2010 and fifth in 2014.
His Capitals teammates can appreciate the pressure placed on their 28-year-old captain and the emotional recovery he faces before joining them for the final 23-game sprint of the regular season.
But they also know how much they need Ovechkin to look forward, not back.
“They had a lot of expectations and it didn’t work out for them,” Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth said of Russia’s elimination by the Finns, who will face Sweden in one of Friday’s semifinal games. “We need him to forget about that and we need him to be 100 percent ready and focused to play for us.”
Caps right wing Troy Brouwer agreed.
“He’s got to distinguish between his international team and his club team,” Brouwer said. “We wanted him to do well there, obviously, as a friend. He’s going to have to put that on the back burner because we need him to play his heart out the rest of this season.”
Similar to this season, the last time Ovechkin and the Russians were eliminated from the Olympics in 2010, he was on a roll with 42 goals and 89 points in his first 55 games.
In the 17 games after those Olympics, Ovechkin managed eight goals and 20 points and saw his points per game average drop from 1.62 before the Olympic break to 1.18 after.
Before his first Olympic appearance for Russia in 2005-06, Ovechkin had 36 goals and 69 points in his first 55 games that rookie season [1.25 points per game]. After the break he recorded 16 goals and 37 points in 26 games [1.42 points per game].
“In the Olympics you can be riding the biggest high before you get there and then you can play bad and come back and feel awful,” Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said. “You hope that’s not the case and I don’t think it will be with him. He’s enough of a player to be able to figure it out and play at his level.
“I couldn’t imagine what that would have been like. He had a lot of weight on his shoulders to get it done there and to have the same exit they pretty much had the last one is tough.
“You could tell with the media and with the fans and those loud whistles, it’s never a good thing and there was a lot of that going on. It’s tough. I don’t think that will affect him with us, but I’m sure for a few days it will be tough.”
Capitals coach Adam Oates said he’ll allow Ovechkin the time he needs to decompress. Whether that will be in Russia with family, back here in D.C., or on a beach somewhere for a few days remains to be seen.
But Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov said the pain and embarrassment Russia is feeling right now is real.
“It’s really big for us,” said Orlov, who is from Novokuznetsk, Russia. “All the players, the whole country, wait for this and it’s a tough loss for everybody.
“I think Ovi’s tired and has emotions. I played in World Juniors and we lost a big game. You feel nothing inside and in your mind. It’s tough. It’s tough for me, too. We’ll see. Maybe next Olympics Russia make a medal.”
Ovechkin will be 32 years old when the 2018 Olympics are held in South Korea.
By then, many will still be judging his career on the number of championships he’s won and since turning pro in 2005 he’s still looking for his first.
His Capitals teammates are hoping Ovechkin can quickly turn his attention away from an Olympic medal and toward a Stanley Cup.
“Obviously, he was very passionate about it,” Joel Ward said. “He had high hopes of putting it all together. There was all the off-ice stuff going in, a lot of hype. It’s not easy, for sure.
“In the Olympics, it’s a one-game knockout and anything can happen on a given day. Canada barely got by Latvia. That’s the thing about the Olympics -- it’s fun for us watching it, but being over there is definitely nerve wracking. Hopefully he comes back hungry on the ice and gets back at it.”