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Ovechkin's pursuit of 700 goals with Capitals must wait one game

Forward unavailable against Canadiens after skipping All-Star festivities

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

MONTREAL -- Alex Ovechkin is ready and eager to roar off into the second half of the 2019-20 NHL season, but the Washington Capitals forward will have to wait one more game.

Eight goals from the 700th of his NHL career, Ovechkin will be a spectator on Monday when the Capitals play the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+, TSN2, NBCSWA, RDS, NHL.TV).

For having skipped 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend, the 34-year-old must miss a game, per League rules. When he chose to play the Capitals' final game before the break, a 6-4 win at the New York Islanders on Jan. 18, Ovechkin knew he'd be sitting against Montreal on Monday.

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"For us, we want to play any game, right?" Ovechkin said after the Capitals held a 40-minute practice Sunday, having arrived here in the early afternoon. "Especially, I love Montreal, I love playing in this arena, but [there's] nothing I can do. It's the rules. I'll miss that game, but I was thinking about the future, what's going to be best for me and for my organization.

"The break was good, I spent time with my family, with my kid, just relaxing. Don't think about much, it was cool."

Ovechkin has 692 regular-season goals, tied with Hockey Hall of Fame center Steve Yzerman for No. 9 on the NHL's all-time list. Next up will be Mark Messier (694), Mike Gartner (708) and Phil Esposito, who is No. 6 all-time with 717.

Talk is heating up of Ovechkin having a run at the NHL record of 894, held by Wayne Gretzky.

On Friday, during Hockey Hall of Fame festivities in St. Louis, Gretzky said he was pulling for Ovechkin to catch a record that once was thought to be untouchable.

"[Gretzky] told me when we had dinner in L.A. a couple years ago," Ovechkin said of the Great One's support. "It's nice to hear [that] from him. I have a very good relationship with him, but there's still a long way to go."

Ovechkin heads into the second half of the season with a simple goal, with 50 points (34 goals, 16 assists) in 49 games: "The most important thing for us is not to get injured, you don't want to get hurt before playoffs," he said. "Just play the same way, get better every night, get better every day. That's our mindset."

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The Capitals (33-11-5) entered the All-Star break atop the NHL standings with 71 points, one ahead of the Boston Bruins.

Ovechkin has enjoyed great success against the Canadiens; in 49 regular-season games against Montreal, the Capitals captain has 54 points (32 goals, 22 assists), 15 of his goals having been scored at Bell Centre.

Washington coach Todd Reirden doesn't expect his team, or the Canadiens, to play "a perfect game," each returning to action following the bye week. But in the days ahead he will look to his captain, on and off the ice, to do more of what makes him so valuable.

"[Ovechkin] continues to find different ways to score goals," Reirden said. "He continues to play a physical game when it's there for him -- I don't think he chases hits as much as he has in years past -- and lead the way that he's been leading.

"He's really grown that way, in particular the last couple years as a leader. We need him to bring that passion and energy. You see it every team he plays [against]. It's not fake, he loves the game and loves playing, it's contagious with our group. He continues to be himself in that regard and do some of the things he's done behind the scenes this year in the locker room as a leader. He's been really strong in that department."

Sitting against any team is no fun for a player as motivated and competitive as Ovechkin. To be parked in Montreal, which he said is among his favorite road cities, is especially difficult.

"I love to play against Montreal, especially here in this barn," he said, having passed Canadiens greats Jean Beliveau (507 goals), Maurice "Rocket" Richard (544) and Guy Lafleur (560) during his march up the scoring list.

"Since Day One, I've liked to play against the Canadiens. The atmosphere, fans, everything here is hockey."

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