Prior to Saturday night's game against New Jersey at the Prudential Center, coach Bruce Boudreau announced Ovechkin will not be in the lineup. It will be the sixth game he's missed since leaving the Nov. 1 game against Columbus with the injury.
"He's not playing, but he's very close," Boudreau said. "He's just not ready yet."
Although Boudreau wouldn't say for sure, the general consensus is that Ovechkin will return Tuesday when the Capitals play the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. The team is off Sunday and practicing back here at Prudential Center on Monday.
Ovechkin skated hard Saturday morning and looked good enough to play. He was snapping off wrist shots and firing slap shots and one-timers. He said if we were in April instead of November, he would be in the lineup no questions asked and the media probably wouldn't even know about this injury.
However, with the Caps playing well -- they've won four straight in Ovechkin's absence -- there is no reason to rush him back.
"It's getting better everyday and I feel it, but still I think we don't want to risk it happening again because maybe it would be worse," Ovechkin said Saturday morning before the final decision for Saturday's game was made. "We have to make sure it's going to be fine."
Ovechkin hasn't faced contact since returning to the ice for practice, but the injury is not believed to be anything structural and Boudreau said that was not a factor in the team's decision to hold him out Saturday.
He casually joked that he's scared to come back into the lineup because the Caps have done so well without him. Eleven different players have combined for 20 goals.
"The team is doing well without me so I'm kind of afraid to come back," he said. "But, you know, it was hard for me to watch the game upstairs with you guys. I miss it a lot. I haven't played in almost two weeks. It's a hard time for me, but it is what it is."
That Ovechkin is this close to returning is obviously good news on many levels for Washington, but it also helps because winger Mike Knuble is out three to four weeks with a fractured finger, an injury that will require surgery.
Boudreau said Boyd Gordon, who hasn't played since the Caps' game against New Jersey on Oct. 12, will play Saturday.
"He's going to feel left out," Boudreau said of Knuble. "They tell me three to four weeks, fractured finger, and I don't ask any more questions because that's all that concerns me."
Devils coach Jacques Lemaire, who knows all about injuries to top players from his days with Marian Gaborik in Minnesota, believes the Caps may now be better off that they have won without Ovechkin.
"Sometimes when you do have a good team it's not bad to have injuries to one of your top players," Lemaire said. "It shows that the team is still good without a good part of the team. It's a confidence builder. I wouldn't say the same thing if they lost Semin and Backstrom and Ovechkin and Green. Then it would be a different team."
As much as Boudreau believes the same thing, he clearly would love having Ovechkin back in the lineup right quick.
"I'll take something positive out of (winning without him) but I'll never say I'm glad he's out because he's the best player in the world and a coach would have to be stupid to say they were better without the best player in the world," Boudreau said. "I'm only stupid sometimes."
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