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Ovechkin could return Tuesday vs. Rangers

by Dan Rosen /
Washington superstar Alex Ovechkin is getting closer to returning to the lineup, but the odds of seeing him play Friday night against Minnesota or Saturday in New Jersey remain fairly long.

Ovechkin skated in Thursday's non-contact practice and, according to reports in the Washington Times and Washington Post, he was seen winding up and taking full slap shots -- something he couldn't do before Thursday.

However Ovechkin, out the last four games with an upper-body strain reportedly linked to his left shoulder, sounded iffy on the topic of playing this weekend.

"I'm getting closer, but still need probably a couple of days," Ovechkin said. "I'm excited right now to come back to the team to play. Still a couple of days, maybe."

It's more likely Ovechkin returns Tuesday in New York when the Capitals play the Rangers (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN2).

Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said he first needs to hear from head athletic trainer Greg Smith that Ovechkin is ready, and then he has to make sure that he's ready.

"We don't play until Tuesday after (Saturday's game in New Jersey), and if those three days are going to make it 100 percent better we're going to wait the three days," Boudreau said. "We want to make sure. He's the premier player in the League. If it's two weeks that we had to lose him, than that's his All-Star break or his Olympic break. Let's let it go and when we get him healthy then hopefully he'll play the rest of the year."

Ovechkin said he feels no pain when he takes slap shots or wrist shots, but he needs to get into a real game to find out if his body is ready.

"When you feel good you need some game moments for your body to discover it," Ovechkin said. "When you go to the game, make some hits and make some moves, your body will feel free and you're going to feel good."

The good news for the Caps is that they are winning and scoring goals without Ovechkin. They struggled when he first went out, losing their first game without Ovechkin, 3-2, in New Jersey eight days ago. But they've won three straight thanks to 15 goals.

"It's a good sign for our team," Ovechkin said. "I'm not playing and Mike Green didn't play in a game against Florida and we still scored lots of goals. That's a good sign for us. Different guys have stepped up and played harder."

Ten players, none of whom are named Green or Nicklas Backstrom, have combined for 17 goals in Ovechkin's absence.

Tomas Fleischmann has 4 goals in the last four games since Ovechkin went out, and the Caps have gotten 2 goals apiece from Mike Knuble, Alexander Semin, Brendan Morrison and defenseman-turned-forward Tyler Sloan in that span.

Mathieu Perreault scored the first of his career against Florida this past Saturday, but his time in Washington could be nearing an end since Boyd Gordon was cleared to play after missing the last 12 games with a back injury.

"We've got good scoring all through the lineup and we still know there are guys that can contribute more even with the allotted ice time they get," Boudreau said. "When you believe you can score, you usually score."

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