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Ovechkin will be a game-time decision Saturday

by Dan Rosen /
NEWARK, N.J. -- Alex Ovechkin was skating in every drill, taking slap shots and firing one-timers into the corners of the net Saturday morning. He looks ready to go, but all signs still point to him missing Saturday night's game at Prudential Center and instead returning Tuesday when Washington plays the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

Ovechkin, who has missed the last five games with an upper body strain, skated hard well after his teammates left the ice following the morning skate at "The Rock." Usually when players stay on the ice for extra work at a morning skate, it means they won't play later that night.

Still, Ovechkin isn't ruling himself out of Saturday night's game and Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, who was not at the rink Saturday morning, said on a video posted on the Capitals' Web site that Ovechkin will skate in the warm-ups and then a decision will be made on his availability.

"Well, you never know," he said Saturday morning. "I didn't talk to Bruce. He just told me to be ready. It was a morning skate. I'll go right now, eat and sleep and maybe I'm going to play today."

Ovechkin hasn't faced contact since returning to the ice for practice, but the injury is not believed to be anything structural. Still, when asked if Capitals head athletic trainer Greg Smith has cleared him for contact drills, Ovechkin said, "Ask him about it."

Washington's training staff is not available to talk to the media.

Asked why he would skate so hard in the morning if there's a chance he could play in the game just hours later, Ovechkin said he needed it.

"I didn't skate that hard two days in a row," he said. "It was a morning skate and just a small practice. Today I needed a hard skate."

It does seem to make more sense for Ovechkin to miss Saturday's game. The Capitals are staying in New York City and have Sunday off before practicing back here at Prudential Center Monday morning.

If Ovechkin misses the game against the Devils, he would have a full day off and another hard practice followed by a morning skate Tuesday before returning against the Rangers. The extra time off may be just what he needs to feel 100 percent.

"It's getting better everyday and I feel it, but still I think we don't want to risk it happening again because maybe it would be worse," Ovechkin said. "We have to make sure it's going to be fine."

"It's getting better everyday and I feel it, but still I think we don't want to risk it happening again because maybe it would be worse.  We have to make sure it's going to be fine."
Alex Ovechkin on injury status

Ovechkin casually joked that he's scared to come back into the lineup because the Caps have done so well without him. They have won four straight after losing here in New Jersey, 3-2, on Nov. 4, the first game Ovechkin missed due to this injury.

"The team is doing well without me, so I'm kind of afraid to come back," he said. "But, you know, it was hard for me to watch the game upstairs with you guys. I miss it a lot. I haven't played in almost two weeks. It's a hard time for me, but it is what it is."

That Ovechkin is this close to returning is obviously good news on so many levels for Washington, but it helps even more now that the Caps lost winger Mike Knuble to a broken finger in Friday's game. His injury requires surgery and he'll be out up to four weeks.

Boudreau said Boyd Gordon will likely play Saturday.

Devils coach Jacques Lemaire, who knows all about injuries to top players from his days with Marian Gaborik in Minnesota, believes the Caps may now be better off that they have won without Ovechkin.

"Sometimes when you do have a good team it's not bad to have injuries to one of your top players," Lemaire said. "It shows that the team is still good without a good part of the team. It's a confidence builder. I wouldn't say the same thing if they lost Semin and Backstrom and Ovechkin and Green. Then it would be a different team."

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