Alex Ovechkin believes his mind may have been with his ailing grandfather during the first weeks of the season, contributing to his slow start. After leaving the Washington Capitals for a week to visit him, Ovechkin may be ready to regroup.
Ovechkin returns to the Caps lineup Tuesday after missing two games as his team tries to win its fifth straight over the Ottawa Senators.
Ovechkin, the NHL's reigning MVP who led the league in scoring last season, left the Capitals (5-4-1) return to Russia to be with his grandfather, who helped raise him. He missed two games - a shootout win over Nashville and a 5-0 loss to Buffalo on Saturday - snapping his 2 1/2-season consecutive games streak.
"When you have somebody for 203 straight games, and then you miss somebody of his stature, when he comes back it's like your big brother's back," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "You're happy to see him. And you're happy to see him smiling again."
Ovechkin, who has two goals and three assists in eight games, felt the family situation weighed on him during the first weeks of the season. Being away "helped me a lot," Ovechkin said.
Facing the Senators (4-5-2) might also help Ovechkin get back into a rhythm, as he has a nine-game point streak against them. He's recorded 10 goals and nine assists in 12 career games against Ottawa, and had six goals and four assists last season as Washington swept the four-game series with the Senators.
"We're obviously glad to have him back and hopefully he can put some of that behind him during the game," Capitals captain Chris Clark said. "He's the best player in the world, and we're happy to have him on our team."
Ovechkin returns after an ugly performance by the Capitals in Saturday's loss, which resulted in Boudreau calling out several players.
"I can definitely tell you there were guys out there not ready to play," Boudreau said. "We've got some great players, but Mike Green wasn't ready to play," he said. "Sasha (Sergei Fedorov) didn't come to play, and Viktor (Kozlov), and you can go on with some of our skilled players not ready to commit to playing a complete game."
Alexander Semin, who had two goals and four assists in his previous three games, was held without a point for only the second time this season.
Jose Theodore allowed the first goal 1:12 into the first period, which ended with Washington trailing 3-0. Theodore, who faced 27 shots and fell to 4-3-0 with a 3.44 goals-against average, has allowed at least two goals in the first period in five of eight starts. He's 7-12-1 with two ties and a 3.20 GAA versus the Senators.
Ottawa returns home after a 2-1-1 road trip. The Senators failed to win their third straight Saturday, falling 3-2 in a shootout to Tampa Bay.
Ottawa led 2-1 in the second period on goals by Antoine Vermette and Dany Heatley, but the Lightning tied the game with less than eight minutes remaining, then took the shootout 3-2.
"I thought we played a pretty solid game," Ottawa coach Craig Hartsburg said. "When it gets to a shootout, you don't know what's going to happen. We did some good things. We've just got to continue to improve our game."
Heatley has a goal in each of his last three games and leads the Senators with 13 points (seven goals and six assists). He has seven goals and 20 assists in 24 games against the Capitals.