-- Alex Ovechkin
and Bruce Boudreau
were under no obligation to say No. 8 was going to return to Washington's lineup Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers
, but both strongly hinted that was the case after Monday's practice.
Ovechkin, who has missed six-straight games with an upper body strain suffered Nov. 1, skated on the top line with Nicklas Backstrom
and Chris Clark
and competed hard in every drill during the hour-long session. He also took part in the full power play practice.
Basically, everything was back to normal.
"We'll see tomorrow," is all Ovechkin would divulge, but Boudreau said, "As of today, he's in."
"I feel pretty good, excited and ready to get in," Ovechkin said.
Is there any reason you won't be in?
"No reason," Ovechkin answered.
"He practiced today and there is a good probability of it happening," added Boudreau.
The Capitals, who are 4-2 without their superstar, expect an extra surge of energy both in the dressing room and throughout Madison Square Garden Tuesday night with No. 8 back in the mix.
"We don't feel a different swagger, but the crowd obviously is abuzz, as it will be tomorrow night in all likelihood because he might be playing," Boudreau said, laughing when he used the words "in all likelihood." "He's an exciting player. It'd be like Michael Jordan, watching him in the shootaround in the pregame. People were like, 'Wow, look at Michael making all those shots.' He's an exciting athlete and entertainer."
Added Brendan Morrison
: "Let's be serious, people come out to see Ovi and every time he touches the puck they expect to see something spectacular. There is an energy in the building and most times he delivers."
Ovechkin, though, is coming back to a team that has produced six power-play goals in 14 chances since he's been out. With Brendan Morrison
in Ovechkin's spot on the point, the Capitals have also limited their shorthanded chances against.
That's why Monday we saw Ovechkin in the slot and Morrison still manning the point along with Mike Green
when the Caps were working on their power play. At least in the beginning, that's the alignment Boudreau will use.
"You're trying to do different things because you knew he was coming back eventually and you knew what the story would be, 'Well, the power play is going so well so where do you put Alex?' " Boudreau said. "We're practicing different stuff and we'll see what the best situation is for him. The options are good.
"The one thing about Alex is wherever he plays people pay attention to him."
Ovechkin doesn't seem to care where he plays on the power play. If he is down low, he said he will try to play like Mike Knuble
by using his body to get position in front of the goalie.
"Mike and Mo right now play well. They control the puck," Ovechkin said. "It gives us more space, especially Mike and Mo upstairs, but if I have a chance to shoot over there I might have a better opportunity to score goals over there."
Even with the position change, Morrison, who Boudreau admitted is "a little safer" play in the defensive position, said Ovechkin will still be the focus of the power play and they will still try to make sure he gets his shots.
Morrison believes Ovechkin may be better served down low than he is up top because of the quality of chances he'll be getting.
"I don't know if he's going to get as many shots being in the slot as he would from being on the point, but he's going to get quality chances," Morrison said. "Not to say he can't beat goalies from up top pretty cleanly, but now his chances will be point blank chances."
Boudreau, of course, left open the possibility for change if he doesn't like what he sees or the Rangers eliminate Ovechkin's effectiveness on the power play. He normally plays close to all of the power-play minutes, but that won't be the case if he's in the slot.
"If there are whistles and you change one unit to another unit Alex isn't going to stay on with the other unit," Boudreau said. "But, there are times when he just feels it and wants to stay on."
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org