That doesn't mean the Capitals must have their star performer to win, and they proved that Tuesday night by beating the Nashville Predators 4-3.
Michael Nylander scored the pivotal goal in a shootout, and Washington generated enough firepower to overcome the absence of Ovechkin.
Ovechkin, the NHL leading scorer and most valuable player last season, left for Russia on Monday to be with his ailing grandfather. The slick-shooting left wing had played in 203 consecutive games and 253 of 254 in his career.
Playing without him was strange, but the Capitals were up to the challenge.
"Obviously, we miss Ovie. Our hearts are with him, and what he's dealing with," said Brooks Laich, who filled the void on Ovechkin's line. "But we want to be known as the Washington Capitals - a good hockey team, not just a team with one or two good players."
Six players had points for the Capitals, including Alexander Semin, who had a goal and an assist before scoring in the shootout. Semin came in tied for the NHL scoring lead with 14 points; he has eight goals in nine games.
"Obviously (Ovechkin) is the star of our team, but Alex Semin is, I think, the best player in the league right now," Laich said. "Everything he touches turns to gold and goes in the net."
Semin put Washington up 3-2 with 18:02 left in regulation, scoring a power-play goal off a pass from Nicklas Backstrom. But Jason Arnott tied it with 6:36 remaining, redirecting a blast by Ryan Suter past Jose Theodore.
The Predators outshot the Capitals 15-3 in the third period.
In the shootout, Semin scored as Washington's second shooter before Ville Koistinen tied it on Nashville's third try at Theodore. Nylander then beat Dan Ellis, and Theodore denied Martin Erat.
"They have a lot of talent," Ellis said of the Capitals. "Even missing their star player, they played a heck of a game."
Although Ovechkin was limited to two goals and three assists in Washington's first eight games, he is a key player on the power play and always receives special attention from the opposition. So, to win without him was no small feat.
"I think we have great leaders and great character," said David Steckel, who contributed a short-handed goal. "Anytime you're missing probably the best player in the NHL, you're going to take a hit. But as much as Alex is the focus of this team, we wanted to make sure we could prepare the same way and come out with the same result."
Arnott scored two goals and Koistinen had one for the Predators, who never led but made a game of it after being outshot 19-4 in the first period.
"Obviously we want to get the win," coach Barry Trotz said. "But we'll take the point after the start we had."
The Capitals went up 1-0 when Viktor Kozlov - a member of Ovechkin's usual line - batted in his own rebound in front of the net at 12:13 of the opening period.
The next two goals came with Nashville on the power play, but the Capitals got the second one. After Koistinen connected on a slap shot from above the right circle, Steckel scored on a pass from Semin as Nashville changes lines.
"Semin made a great pass. I didn't have to move my stick," Steckel said.
Arnott tied it on a backhander in the second period, giving the Predators two goals on seven shots.
Notes: Semin's first seven goals this season were at even strength. ... Nashville is 1-3-1 on the road and has been outscored 22-15. ... The Predators have scored at least three goals in eight straight games, but have yielded at least three in the past six.