MONTREAL – Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin participated in the team's optional morning skate and said afterwards he hopes to play against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre on Saturday.
Capitals coach Adam Oates said if there are no setbacks for his lower body injury before game time, Ovechkin will get to do just that.
"He told me out there he feels really good," Oates said. "We'll see how he feels after his nap, make sure nothing reoccurs, and if he feels good enough we'll play him."
Ovechkin has missed the past two games, a 2-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators at home Tuesday and a 2-1 loss at the New Jersey Devils on Friday. Prior to being unable to play, Ovechkin had scored three goals in four games and four in his past six games, an offensive boost that would be sorely needed for a Capitals team that has scored six even strength goals over a seven-game winless skid (0-5-2).
However, Oates doesn't want his team looking to Ovechkin to solve all of its scoring troubles single-handedly.
"You can't have it that way," Oates said. "Obviously the focus will be that he'll come and save the day type of thing because he's a scorer, which he is. We know that. But the team has to find other ways to score…The team has to play like a team first."
Ovechkin displayed some of his trademark energy and explosiveness during the Capitals optional skate, something that wasn't present Friday morning when he took a couple of turns around the ice before leaving the skate and missing the game in New Jersey.
He made it clear it will be Oates' decision whether or not he returns to the lineup against Montreal.
"I feel better, but [Oates] is going to tell me," Ovechkin said. "I feel better, and that's all I can say."
With Ovechkin possibly returning, Oates may be without another key offensive player with center Mikhail Grabovski questionable for the game against the Canadiens. Grabovski got tangled up with Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador in front of the New Jersey net midway through the second period Friday and left the ice limping, putting very little weight on his left leg.
"I think he's a game-time [decision] as well," Oates said. "But he was hurting pretty good after the game, so we'll see."
The Capitals recalled center Casey Wellman from Hershey of the American Hockey League on Saturday afternoon, further suggesting Grabovski will be unable to play.
Both the Capitals and the Canadiens are seeking to reverse a losing trend Saturday, with Montreal losing three in a row and five of its past seven games. Montreal has also struggled to score goals of late, with nine even strength goals in the past seven games, but the Canadiens have also allowed 21 goals at five on five in that same stretch.
Washington's seven-game winless streak has either mired the team in a deep depression or not affected the team's mood at all, depending on who you ask.
"To be honest, it's pretty upbeat," forward Brooks Laich said of the team's attitude Saturday morning. "We know that we've lost seven in a row, but nobody walks in hanging their heads. We had a good meeting crunching video. It's a pretty upbeat attitude."
Oates, on the other hand, doesn't read his team's mood the same way.
"The spirits are what you would expect, everybody's down," he said. "When you lose you get down. We haven't played that bad hockey, but we're figuring out ways to lose every night."
Canadiens coach Michel Therrien will go with Carey Price in goal on back to back nights following a 4-1 loss at the Detroit Red Wings on Friday and will make no other lineup changes. That means defensemen Raphael Diaz and Francis Bouillon as well as forward George Parros will be scratched.
The Capitals will give Braden Holtby the start in goal after Michal Neuvirth took the loss in New Jersey.