-- The question posed to Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom
went something like this: Does your style or mindset change knowing Alex Ovechkin
is not here?
Backstrom raised his eyebrows ever so slightly and then made a facial expression that was more telling than any long-winded verbal response he might have given.
The answer, according to Backstrom, clearly is no.
Other than the possible return of forward Eric Fehr
to the lineup, the Capitals don't plan on changing anything Tuesday night when they take on the Philadelphia Flyers
at Wells Fargo Center in a nationally-televised clash (7:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN2) between the top two teams in the Eastern Conference.
They are separated by just two points in the overall standings. Philadelphia has already clinched a playoff berth and Washington can Tuesday.
"We realize the importance of the next two months, not hitting individual goals in the regular season but the importance of the team aspect, so some time off for him is going to be good. He'll be ready to fire when he comes back."
-- Brooks Laich on Ovechkin
Even without Ovechkin, who is home nursing some nagging ailments of which the team won't comment on, the Capitals view the game Tuesday as their best chance to measure how good they really are. They've won 13 of their last 16 games, but only six of those victories have come against teams that currently occupy a playoff spot.
"They've got to set something like this up at the beginning of the year, thinking, 'You know, Philadelphia and Washington may be good so let's play them at the end of the year,' " Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner
said. "It makes sense. It makes for good TV. It's nice for us, too, because we want to face the best, especially going into the playoffs here. We want to prove to them, to everybody and to ourselves, that we're right up there, we're a contender, and this is the best team to do it against."
"And also, it's a challenge with Alex being out," added Brooks Laich
, who assumes the role as the top-line left wing in Ovechkin's absence.
Ovechkin will miss his first game of the season at a time when he's had his most productive stretch of the campaign (21 points in the last 16 games) and the Capitals are collecting points at their peak rate. Caps coach Bruce Boudreau
said he'll likely be out seven to 10 days, but it's possible he misses only a game or two considering Washington hasn't played since last Friday and won't play again until this coming Friday in Ottawa.
Even if Ovechkin doesn't return this weekend, the Capitals have done enough over the last month to set themselves up for home-ice advantage in the playoffs and possibly even as the top seed. That's why they're not concerned about having to spend a few days in March without their captain and best player.
"We realize the importance of the next two months, not hitting individual goals in the regular season but the importance of the team aspect, so some time off for him is going to be good," Laich said. "He'll be ready to fire when he comes back."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl