Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin has never missed an all-star game in his NHL career. His selection to this year’s game on Thursday was mainly a testament to what he achieved over his first six seasons rather than what he has accomplished so far in his seventh.
Ovechkin and defenseman Dennis Wideman were among the 36 veteran players named to the roster by the league. This year’s event, which takes place Jan. 26-29 in Ottawa, will mark Ovechkin’s fifth all-star appearance and Wideman’s first.
While the strength of Ovechkin’s performance through the first 41 games of the season makes his worthiness as an all-star debatable — he is tied for 48th in the league in scoring with 33 points — the game simply wouldn’t seem complete without the star left wing’s presence.
“I think it’s good for the sport. He’s one of the most well-known names in hockey,” Troy Brouwer said. “If you want to sell the game, you’ve got to sell it with a name like Ovechkin. I think that he probably should be going to the all-star game just to make sure we’re selling the game of hockey.”
Ovechkin, 26, made his most memorable all-star appearance in Montreal in 2009, when he made a creative statement in the skills competition. Aided by Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, Ovechkin donned sunglasses as well as a fishing hat with a Canadian flag in it, and skated with two sticks to win the breakaway challenge.
Will he provide a similar show-stopping moment this year? Ovechkin seemed uncertain.
“I’m kind of retired from the skill competition,” he said. “I don’t know. If there’s going to be skills competition, I don’t know what I’m going to do. Let the young guys do it. I’m kind of retired.”
Ovechkin may be an experienced veteran when it comes to the routine of the all-star weekend, but that’s not the case for Wideman. The 28-year-old defenseman is ranked fifth among all NHL blue-liners in scoring with 29 points (eight goals, 21 assists) but his all-star berth was so unexpected that when he received a call from General Manager George McPhee with the news, he first assumed he had been traded.
“I was pretty surprised,” Wideman said. “When he called me I was like, ‘Oh man, where am I going now?’ ”
Given that the 2011-12 campaign began with Wideman uncertain how his body would hold up after last season was cut short by a hematoma in his right thigh, having his strong first half of the season recognized with an all-star nod was welcome news.
In addition to being third on the Capitals in scoring, Wideman also leads the team in average ice time per game and is 21st in the league, playing 24 minutes 11 seconds per contest.
“It was a big surprise, something that at some point in your career you hope to do,” Wideman said. “I think it’s going to be an experience. Obviously, guys that have been there eight, nine, 10 times. . . . They might want a break if they’ve been there every year. For me and for guys that get picked their first time, it’s really exciting to get a chance to go and see what it’s all about. I’ve been watching it on TV and stuff like that for years.”
Also unexpected was that center Nicklas Backstrom was not among those selected to participate in the all-star game, but it’s possible his absence from the list is related to the uncertainty surrounding his health.
The Swede has been Washington’s best and most consistent player through the first half of the year and leads the team with 42 points (13 goals, 29 assists), but he has missed the past three games and hasn’t skated in six days after suffering a concussion when he was elbowed by then-Calgary’s Rene Bourque on Jan. 2.
The team officially lists his status as day-to-day but Coach Dale Hunter acknowledged earlier this week that there is no timetable for his return.
“That’s how it is. What he’s at right then, and the league knows what happened with the elbow,” Hunter said. “Everybody wants to go to the all-star game. It’s a great honor. Unfortunately, he’s hurt right now and we’ll have to wait and see how he is” Friday.
Capitals note: Washington placed Mike Green on the long-term injured list, and the defenseman will not be eligible to return to the lineup until Feb. 1 against Florida at the earliest.
Green has missed 31 of Washington’s 41 games this season because of injury.