Alex Ovechkin was back with the Capitals tonight after missing the past three games, and the left wing showed some rust but otherwise played with a great deal of gusto during Washington’s 3-2 shootout loss to Southeast Division rival Carolina at Verizon Center.
An undisclosed injury had kept Ovechkin from joining the team for the second half of its most recent six-game road trip. During that time, he watched the Capitals’ games on television with center Jason Arnott, who also re-entered the lineup after missing the entire road trip with an undisclosed lower-body injury and an accompanying groin ailment.
Ovechkin came out with plenty of burst from the get-go, rocketing onto the ice as the first skater out for warmups and carrying that enthusiasm right into the first period. Shortly after faceoff, Ovechkin drew rousing applause with a hit on Hurricanes defenseman Derek Joslin.
The game continued on a physical bent when Arnott and defenseman Bryan Allen were talking back and forth during a stoppage near the Carolina crease. Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward had covered the puck, and Arnott took a slight swipe at it. That prompted Allen to skate in and deliver a shove.
Arnott and Allen then began clutching and grabbing, and after officials separated them, both players went to the penalty box for roughing.
“I think it was like a playoff game for them,” Ovechkin said. “For us, it is good when we play against those kind of teams. It helps us prepare for the playoffs.”
That was the thought process for leaving behind Ovechkin while the Capitals played at Philadelphia, New Jersey and Ottawa, allowing him to heal from the undisclosed injury to be posteason-ready.
In claiming his customary slot on the first line with center Nicklas Backstrom and right wing Mike Knuble, Ovechkin played 19 minutes 20 seconds against Carolina, which moved within three points of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. He finished tied for the team lead with five hits and had five shots.
“I thought his timing was off a little bit on some things,” Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said of the two-time Hart Trophy winner. “He had a lot of energy. He had a lot of hits, but I mean you can tell sometimes the timing is off.”
Ovechkin said as much following the game, which was Washington’s first home loss after winning five in a row at Verizon Center. It also was the first time the Capitals lost to Carolina as the teams completed their six-game regular season series.
“When you don’t play, you feel very nervous,” Ovechkin said. “Well, not nervous, but you don’t feel the puck. You’re skating hard in practice, but in the game it makes a difference. But I’m glad I’m back.”