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Ovechkin opts out of NHL All-Star Weekend

by Corey Masisak
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin will not be in Ottawa for the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game.

Ovechkin decided to remove himself from the event Tuesday, citing that he will be in the middle of a three-game suspension.

"My heart is not there. I am suspended, so why I have to go there?" Ovechkin said. "I love the game. It is a great event. I love to be there. I am suspended. I don't want to be a target. I feel like I'm not deserving to be there right now because I am suspended."

Capitals general manager George McPhee said the team supports Ovechkin's decision.

"Because he's a suspended player ... he doesn't feel he deserves to be there, so he's not going to go," McPhee said. "He doesn't want to be a distraction to the event. ... You know what all the questions are going to be, so it is a great event and he doesn't want that distraction and we don't want it either."

Alex Ovechkin
Left Wing - WSH
GOALS: 20 | ASST: 19 | PTS: 39
SOG: 171 | +/-: -4
"In light of yesterday's suspension, we informed the Capitals that, while Alex Ovechkin was still welcome to participate in this weekend's All-Star festivities in Ottawa, we would not be insisting that he do so," said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. "We now understand that Alex has decided to withdraw from this weekend's events. Given the circumstances involved, we understand Mr. Ovechkin's decision in this regard, and have no intention of pursuing this matter further."

Ovechkin will begin serving his three-game suspension Tuesday night when the Capitals play host to the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins at Verizon Center. The suspension was the result of a hit on Pittsburgh's Zbynek Michalek in the second period of a 4-3 overtime loss Sunday at Consol Energy Center.

NHL Senior Vice President of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan ruled that because Ovechkin left his feet, made contact with the head and is a repeat offender (two previous suspensions and two fines for questionable hits) that the Capitals' captain deserved to sit for three games.

"I was surprised and disappointed. I didn't anticipate he would be suspended for three games. We presented our case to the League yesterday and I thought we did real well," McPhee said. "I was disappointed in the suspension because he is considered a repeat offender, and I don't believe he should have been suspended in the past for at least one of those hits -- the one in Chicago. He outweighed the player [then-Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell] by 50 pounds -- that's not his fault. There was a lot of grey area then, but I think we've cleaned up the grey and it is clear now what we're trying to do. I think that was a factor in the decision and I don't think it should have been."

Added Ovechkin: "I was disappointed, actually. The most bad thing is all my career it is going to be like that. My game is play physical. My game is play hard. I don't think it was bad hit, a dirty hit. Yeah, I jumped but he don't get hurt and I don't get two minutes. I don't think it was a three-game suspension."

Members of the Capitals organization were not happy that Michalek, who was penalized for elbowing Matt Hendricks in the head later in the game, was not fined or suspended.

"I explain what happened and [Shanahan] said what he thought," Ovechkin said. "I said target was not the head, the target was the body. You can see he (goes) down when I try to hit him. If he (stands) up and try to hit me back, maybe it is going to be a good hit. He didn't, and I am suspended and he's not. Why he doesn't get suspended is also questionable."

"My heart is not there. I am suspended, so why I have to go there? I love the game. It is a great event. I love to be there. I am suspended. I don't want to be a target. I feel like I'm not deserving to be there right now because I am suspended." -- Alex Ovechkin

Ovechkin was suspended twice during the 2009-10 season. He was suspended for two games after a knee-on-knee hit against Carolina defenseman Tim Gleason in December, and then two games for the hit on Campbell in March.

The team and its star player fielded plenty of questions about his style of play at the time, and that theme came up again Tuesday.

"We're concerned about it, certainly, but what we want him to do when he comes back is play the way he's always played," McPhee said. "We want him to be relentless. We want him to score goals. We want him to be physical. Unfortunately, our game has changed recently. Where we are with hits in today's game has changed a lot the last couple of years. What was once tolerable or acceptable in our game at all levels, whether it is the NHL or college or juniors or youth hockey, is no longer acceptable or tolerable. Things have changed with certain hits, and we all have to adjust to it -- whether it is coaches or players or managers. [Ovechkin], like a lot of players, is trying to adjust to it and it is hard. It is a big adjustment for some of these players.

"We're certainly supportive of where we're going in the League. Certainly hits have to be eliminated in the game. We're all for that, but the adjustment is not easy. We've had a lot of players disciplined this year and last year for certain hits. When you take a player like Ovechkin who is incredibly physical, he's been in the top 10 in hits in this League every year that he's been in the League, they're not all going to go his way. They're not all going to go right. In this instance, he left his feet. What was once a charging call for all of us is now, if head contact results somewhere in that hit, it is a fine and possibly a suspension."

McPhee did voice support for the work Shanahan and the player safety department has done, despite his objection to the length of Ovechkin's suspension.

"I think it has been more clear the last year or so," McPhee said. "I think the League has done a good job of defining what we need to do. It is a difficult area. It has been a difficult area for GMs to define. We've had some comprehensive meetings about it to figure out how we address certain hits and we've come to a place where we think it is clear. I think there was some grey in the past."

Ovechkin won't be the only star player missing for the Capitals against the Bruins. Top center Nicklas Backstrom remains out with a concussion, and top defenseman Mike Green had sports hernia surgery Jan. 17.

McPhee did not have much of an update on Backstrom, who has missed the past three weeks after an elbow by then-Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque. This game against the Bruins will be the first time Washington plays a game without Backstrom and Ovechkin in the lineup since the 2006-07 season.

Green has missed all but 10 games this season because of groin issues.

"I talked to [Green] yesterday and he feels pretty good," McPhee sad. "I think today is the first day he starts to do exercises and then he'll be skating next week."

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