The Washington Capitals have grown accustomed to playing without some of their top names over the last two months, but beginning with Tuesday’s game against the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Flyers, they must move forward without their biggest star, Alex Ovechkin.
The left wing is expected to miss seven to 10 days with an undisclosed injury that has been a problem throughout the season, Coach Bruce Boudreau said Monday.
“He’s had some nagging injuries for a while now that have bothered him,” Boudreau said. “We’ve only had one game in six days. So we thought this would be the best time to get completely healed up so by the time he starts playing again, he’ll be 100 percent healthy.”
Tuesday’s game at Wells Fargo Center looms large for the Capitals, who can clinch a playoff berth with either a win or a Carolina loss on Tuesday. Washington trails Philadelphia, which has two games in hand, by two points for first place in the conference.
Ovechkin left Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington prior to the start of the team’s practice Monday and was not made available to the media. General Manager George McPhee was quoted in a story about the Capitals captain’s injury on the team’s Web site, but he declined to comment to reporters.
“He just needs to take some time off to get completely healed up,” McPhee was quoted as saying.
Ovechkin needed a cortisone shot in his wrist in early January but has not missed a contest this season. Despite the fact that he is on pace for career lows in points and goals, he leads the Capitals and is sixth in the NHL with 77 points (29 goals, 48 assists) in 73 games.
In recent weeks, Ovechkin began to show the same energy and power that had propelled him to the top of the league’s scoring statistics throughout his career. He tallied 14 in the 10 most recent contests, but only played more than 20 minutes four times during that span, dating back to March 1 against the New York Islanders. Ovechkin played his lowest ice time of the year on Friday, skating only 15 minutes 24 seconds in Washington’s 3-0 win over New Jersey.
“He hasn’t practiced with the team in a while, too. He wants to feel better,” said Boudreau, who added that Ovechkin “probably” wouldn’t play even if the upcoming games were playoff contests. “He doesn’t like waking up every morning and feeling like he’s got to go through an hour of just doing stuff to get ready to practice or to play. He wants to feel healthy. The playoffs are very important to him and he wants to be at his best when we arrive there.”
The Capitals have won 12 of 14 games dating back to Feb. 20. Over the course of the past month, they’ve started to display unflappable execution within the defensive system that Boudreau implemented in December following an eight-game losing streak. That success, which included a season-best, nine-game winning streak, came without several key parts of the lineup.
Defenseman Mike Green hasn’t played since Feb. 25, when he was elbowed in the head by New York Rangers rookie Derek Stepan and suffered a concussion. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov has been out since Feb. 26 with a knee injury but is scheduled to return this week. Top-line center Nicklas Backstrom missed five games with a fractured thumb. Trade-deadline pickup Jason Arnott will likely be absent for a fourth consecutive contest with what multiple sources said is a groin injury. On March 15, Eric Fehr fell and re-injured his right shoulder, which was dislocated earlier in the year. The right wing has been out the past two games but could return this week, Boudreau said.
While nothing can make up for losing Ovechkin, teammates said, the Capitals have grown accustomed to enduring lineup tweaks and adjustments of all sorts in the wake of the injuries.
“The way we’re playing, you can kind of change the parts out a little bit,” winger Mike Knuble said. “There’s a time when you’re going to miss the offensive guys and no system can replicate what some of the guys can do offensively, but for a lot of the time . . . you can switch some of the parts in and out and still be strong as a group.”
Notes: Arnott skated for about 10 minutes Monday morning and the veteran center said he “felt good,” according to Boudreau. . . . There is still no timetable for Green’s return from a concussion, even though he is eligible to be activated off long-term injured reserve at any time beginning Tuesday. . . . Michal Neuvirth is expected to be the starting goaltender against the Flyers. . . . Washington is 1-0-2 against Philadelphia this season.