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Ovechkin heads to Russia to visit grandfather

by Mike G. Morreale
For only the second time in three-plus NHL seasons, Alex Ovechkin will be missing from the Washington lineup when the Capitals host the Nashville Predators Tuesday.

The 23-year-old Ovechkin, who has struggled out of the gate this season with 2 goals and 5 points in 8 games for the Caps (4-3-1), returned to Russia Tuesday morning to visit with his ailing 83-year-old grandfather.

According to Tarik El-Bashir of The Washington Post, the health of Ovechkin's maternal grandfather, Nikolay Kabayev, took a turn for the worse over the last two days. Ovechkin's business manager and friend, Konstantin Selinevich, said Ovechkin's likely return to Washington would be Sunday. The Capitals travel to Buffalo Saturday.
"If a loved one was very close to us and not in good health, we'd feel the same way," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said following Monday practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. "And sometimes he bottles it up all inside, but you can tell the way he relates to his mother (Tatiana) and father (Mikhail) that he has a very close family relationship. So, with his grandfather as sick as he is, I would assume it would bother him greatly. It would bother me if it were my mother or father or grandparents.

"I didn't ask him when he expected to return; who knows?" Boudreau said. "I didn't ask him that question, but I did tell him that it was more important to be home and with his family at a time like this."

In three-plus seasons with the Capitals, Ovechkin has missed one game - on Jan. 30, 2006 against the Islanders midway through his rookie season. Since then, Ovechkin had played in 203 consecutive NHL games. "Ovie" was a plus-4 with 10 penalty minutes while averaging 24:31 in ice time per game this season.

While there is no replacement for the loss of last season's Rocket Richard, Lester Pearson, Art Ross and Hart Trophy-winning left wing, Boudreau expects the team to rally and continue to push forward.

"Sure, the biggest change to our lineup will be that we don't have Alex Ovechkin, but a lot of teams have missed their star player and, if I recall, Sidney Crosby was injured last year and they pulled together," Boudreau said. "Teams just have to pull up their socks and go. It's the first time in a while that we'll be playing without him, but it just means there's more opportunities for other guys to get more minutes that Alex would be eating up. And if you want more minutes, here's the opportunity to show me what you can do."

Crosby was sidelined 29 games with a high-ankle sprain last season, but the Pittsburgh Penguins wouldn't be denied the Atlantic Division championship. In the absence of Crosby, center Evgeni Malkin elevated his game, posting 54 points in the club's final 36 games. Malkin, who had 47 goals and 106 points in 2007-08, even finished second in the Hart Trophy voting as NHL MVP behind Ovechkin and ahead of Calgary’s Jarome Iginla, Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom and New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur.

"This situation was pulling (Ovechkin) in two ways," said Boudreau. "He knew he had to go and be with his grandfather; he wanted to be near him. But, if you know Alex, he never wants to leave his teammates either. That's always a struggle, but in the end we made it clear that it's family first."

Ovechkin contacted Capitals General Manager George McPhee Sunday night to inform him of his grandfather's health.

"I'm not sure how tough the decision was for him, he was basically looking for permission to go," McPhee told The Washington Post. "Family is more important than anything and you go and come back when you're ready."

During Monday's practice, Boudreau had Brooks Laich on the top line with Nicklas Backstrom and Viktor Kozlov. Laich has 2 goals and 6 points, fifth best on the team, this season. Boudreau admitted Sergei Fedorov would likely center the second unit with white-hot Alexander Semin (7 goals, 14 points) and either Eric Fehr or David Steckel.

"I'm just going to keep doing the same things," Laich said. "I'm not going to try to become Alex Ovechkin. I might try to put a couple through my legs, but only early in the game."

Following Saturday's contest with the Sabres, the Capitals travel to Ottawa Tuesday. Washington then returns to the District for a three-game home stand beginning Nov. 6 against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Contact Mike Morreale at

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