The first indication that Alex Ovechkin would miss at least a game came early Thursday morning, when the winger took to the ice in Arlington ahead of the Washington Capitals’ regularly scheduled practice. He sprinted and worked on cardio conditioning, but there was no familiar thud of pucks hitting the end boards. The player with the most shots in the NHL wasn’t shooting.
Ovechkin did not travel with the team and will not play Friday when the Capitals visit the Philadelphia Flyers, four days after he injured his right shoulder in Vancouver.
Coach Adam Oates confirmed that the Capitals’ star winger suffered the injury when he was tripped by Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler 1 minute 19 seconds into the first period of Monday’s game.
Replay of the incident shows that Ovechkin fell with the bulk of his weight on his right arm and then collided, head and shoulder first, into Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo. As Ovechkin got out from under the net, he extended his arm to touch the ice, as if to test the movement, patted Luongo and then stretched his arm once more to touch the goaltender’s pad. When he stood up, his right arm hung gingerly by his side.
While there’s no definitive timetable for when Ovechkin will return to the lineup, Oates offered an optimistic estimate, saying “maybe” as soon as Saturday against the Florida Panthers.
The Capitals haven’t often had to play without Ovechkin since he entered the league in 2005-06. This will be just the 13th game Ovechkin has missed because of injury in his nine-year career and 22nd absence overall, which includes suspensions and when he left the team to spend time with his ailing grandfather in 2008.
Washington is 11-8-2 with Ovechkin out of the lineup. But with their leading scorer, offensive catalyst and captain sidelined, the rest of the Capitals know they must find ways to fill the void.
“He’s a talented player, brings a lot to this team. He’s scored 10 goals already,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “We’re going to miss that, but at the same time we’ve got to do the same effort that we would do with him in the lineup. Obviously we’re going to miss him, but it’s a great thing for other players to step up.”
No player has as significant an opportunity to make an impact with Ovechkin out as Eric Fehr, who will occupy the right wing spot on the first line next to Backstrom and will man the one-timer spot from the left circle on the top power-play unit.
Fehr spent the first 12 games of the season and the bulk of Washington’s exhibition schedule at center, most recently on the fourth line, but shifting back to his long-time position should make for an easy transition.
Oates spent extra time working with Fehr in Thursday’s practice to help familiarize him with the timing, angles of passes and time available from the circle on the man-advantage. Fehr has always been the second option on the depth chart for that spot, but considering Ovechkin’s power-play prowess he, unsurprisingly, doesn’t get much regular ice time there.
“To me, the philosophy of the power play should be that anybody’s interchangeable,” Oates said. “Guys have strengths and weaknesses, but the system still runs itself, we still expect guys to make reads.”
But no one has the same type of imposing one-timer on the power play that Ovechkin does, commanding the attention of any penalty kill. Nor does any single Capital have as profound an impact on the man advantage, where Ovechkin has accounted for four of the team’s 10 goals, 22 of the 62 shots and 44 of 113 attempted shots.
Fehr said he isn’t going to try to be the reigning Hart Trophy winner. He just wants to do his part to help the power play create chances and cash in.
“I don’t think they’ll be covering me quite as closely as they cover Ovi,” Fehr said. “Ovi does his thing out there, and I haven’t had the opportunity. He makes it look pretty easy. He’s been doing that for many years. I’m not going to be shooting it like him. I’ll have my own spin on that position, and hopefully it works out.”