When the Caps take to the ice in Philadelphia on Tuesday for a crucial late-season tilt with the Flyers, they’ll do so without team captain Alex Ovechkin
. The Washington left wing will be sidelined for a short period of time with an undisclosed ailment.
With Washington’s playoff berth all but cemented with three weeks remaining in the season, and with Tuesday’s game in Philadelphia being the only game the Capitals play over a span of six days, this was the optimal time for Ovechkin to step back for a few games and take some time to heal up and get his body ready for the rigorous run that is the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“He just needs to take some time off to get completely healed up,” says Caps’ general manager George McPhee, who estimates the Caps’ captain would require somewhere in the neighborhood of 7-10 days away from the lineup.
Going into Monday’s NHL action, Ovechkin is sixth in the league in scoring with 77 points (29 goals, 48 assists) and was tied for 17th with a plus-22 rating. He leads the Capitals in goals, assists, points, plus/minus, and is tied for the team lead with six power play goals.
“He’s been bothered by this nagging ailment for a couple of months,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “We just thought we’d take care of it now. His body needs a little bit of rest. We thought this was a good time to rest his body for a week to two weeks so he’s fresh come April.”
Ovechkin played in the team’s 3-0 win over the Devils on Friday night, picking up two assists and recording a plus-3. He has logged less than 20 minutes in seven of the Capitals’ last 11 games, an uncharacteristically low amount of ice time over that span given the context of his six-year NHL career.
When Ovechkin is ready to return, the Caps know he will be slotted in on the left side of their top line. In the meantime, Boudreau has a chance to audition some other players as the playoffs draw near.
“It’s the same as Nicky [Backstrom] being out,” says Boudreau. “When he comes back, you know where he is going to end up. Sometimes you can find pleasant surprises. An example, Marcus [Johansson] playing with Ovi while Nicky was out did remarkably well. So it might be something that we keep together and Nicky can play with [Alexander] Semin. It gives us options.
“We will find things that maybe we haven’t done before on that left side, that somebody might come back and excel at it. Brooks [Laich], if we put him back at left wing, might come back and be really solid at that position with Mike Knuble
or with Semin and Nicky, a combination that we haven’t used all year.”
Besides Laich, the Capitals have veterans Marco Sturm, Jason Chimera
and D.J. King on the left side. Matt Hendricks
has also played the left wing for most of this season, and Semin is a left wing by trade even though he is a right-handed shot and has spent the better part of the last few seasons skating the right side.
Despite fighting through his ailment, Ovechkin was also hitting his stride on the ice of late. He has at least a point in 14 of his last 16 games, and has totaled eight goals and 21 points during that span. Ovechkin is a plus-7 in those last 16 games.
The Capitals posted a 13-3 record during those 16 games. Ovechkin’s ice time was down and his production was up during most of that stretch, so a late-season break to heal his body might bring the Washington winger back stronger than before.
“We don’t want to be experimenting at the end of March,” says Boudreau, “but it will give us a chance to see some new possibilities. And it gives somebody else a chance to play valuable minutes. Someone who is playing 12 minutes a game might be able to jump up to 18 minutes a game because of his absence.”
Ovechkin’s absence from the lineup leaves Washington with just four players who have played in all of the team’s games this season: forwards Brooks Laich
and Jason Chimera
and defensive duo Karl Alzner
and John Carlson