Forward eager to help defend Stanley Cup championship after short offseason

ARLINGTON, Va. — Lars Eller still gets goose bumps when seeing the video of his Stanley Cup-winning goal, or simply thinking about it, for the Washington Capitals nearly three months later.

“I think you’ll always feel like that thinking back on it,” Eller said.

But there is work to be done with the first training camp practice Sept. 14, less than two weeks away. That was evident by the host of Capitals veterans participating in an informal practice Tuesday.

Eller was among a group that included forwards Alex OvechkinNicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, goalie Braden Holtby, and defensemen John CarlsonMatt NiskanenBrooks Orpik and Christian Djoos.

But Eller said the full focus on the upcoming season is not there, yet.

“I think you’re still enjoying [winning the Cup], and you should,” Eller said. “As long as you work hard here on the ice, you can go home and feel good about yourself. As long as you show up to work and still have that mentality of wanting to get better when you get here and not dwell on it, I see no reason you can’t enjoy being a champion. So the page is slowly turning, I think. Once we start playing games, it will turn for real.”

The Capitals’ offseason of celebrating the first Stanley Cup title in their 43-season history will officially end when they raise the championship banner prior to their season opener against the Boston Bruins on Oct. 3 (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVAS). Eller, whose goal with 7:37 remaining in the third period proved to be the winner in Washington’s clinching 4-3 victory against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 5 of the Cup Final, acknowledged putting such an exciting time behind them won’t be easy.

The 29-year-old center became the first player to bring the Cup to Denmark when he had his day with it in his hometown of Rodovre on Aug. 8. His teammates had similar experiences with the Cup that they’ll never forget, but they’ll have to move on eventually to achieve their quest of repeating.

“It’s a big mental challenge,” Eller said. “But I think when the puck drops and you start playing the games again, what always has been driving me as an individual is the competing, the competition of it. Everybody in that room hates to lose, and when you get slapped in the face, you get right back up again, and everybody has that mentality. So we’re not going to like losing more than we did before. But it’s a going to be a challenge. It always is.”

Having a shorter offseason to train for the upcoming season adds to that challenge. Eller, who set NHL career highs with 18 goals and 38 points last season, estimated that in past offseasons he had 2-3 weeks more gym time that he had to trim from his training regimen this year.

“You almost feel like you’re a step behind of where you usually are at this point,” he said. “But at the same time, we played two months longer than half the League and a month or six weeks longer than the majority. So we’re going to catch up quickly.”

Bringing back most of the roster from last season should help. Fourth-line center Jay Beagle (signed with the Vancouver Canucks) and backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer (traded to the Colorado Avalanche) are the only players who dressed for Washington in its Cup-clinching win who won’t be back.

The Capitals’ biggest change is former associate coach Todd Reirden taking over as coach after Barry Trotz resigned and moved on to coach the New York Islanders.

“It’s basically the same team, just a new voice behind the bench and a new face, and that will create a new dynamic and some new energy, some freshness to it,” Eller said. “I couldn’t think of a better scenario going into this season.”

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer