By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
RALEIGH, N.C. -- For the second time in three games, Alex Ovechkin was ejected after being assessed a major penalty and a game misconduct.
But this time the threat of receiving a suspension from NHL was secondary to the injury the Washington Capitals' star suffered when he hit a Carolina player in open ice, knee-on-knee, in the first period Monday night at RBC Center.
With Ovechkin banished to the dressing room for most of the night, Nicklas Backstrom scored two goals and José Theodore made 38 saves to lift the Capitals to a 3-2 victory over the NHL-worst Carolina Hurricanes.
The victory, Washington's third straight, helped the Capitals keep pace with Pittsburgh and remain tied with the Penguins atop the Eastern Conference. But the possibility of losing Ovechkin to disciplinary action from the NHL and/or injury loomed large in the visitor's dressing room here.
"Anytime Alex is hurt, I'm concerned," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He's stiff right now. But I don't know how long he's going to be out, if he's out at all. With these things, the next morning you find out a lot more."
Ovechkin issued a no-comment to a reporter before boarding the team bus, saying he is under strict orders from team management not to discuss his injury or the hit that resulted in his ejection.
The two-time MVP walked with a slight limp, but did not appear to be wearing a brace and was not using crutches.
The hit occurred about 12 minutes into the game when Ovechkin lined up Carolina's Tim Gleason as the defenseman attempted to skate the puck out of the Hurricanes' zone. Gleason appeared to change directions just as Ovechkin went to deliver his shoulder to Gleason's chest and the result was a knee-on-knee collision that sent both players to the dressing room.
Gleason, however, returned moments later; Ovechkin, who had crumpled to the ice clutching his right knee and did not place any weight on the leg when he was helped off the ice moments later, was assessed five minutes for kneeing and a game misconduct.
"It looked like he leaned with his shoulder to me," Boudreau said. "Gleason put a good move to the inside and his leg followed through with him."
Carolina Coach Paul Maurice called the hit "dangerous."
"Gleason made a good move and he caught him with his knee," Maurice told reporters. "I don't know how you want to define the play, but it's dangerous for both players."
For Ovechkin, the ejection was his second in five days. He escaped supplementary discipline from the NHL for his hit on Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta on Wednesday. For that incident, Ovechkin received a five-minute major for boarding and a game misconduct.
General Manager George McPhee said the team hopes to know more about Ovechkin's injury when he is examined by team doctors on Tuesday in Washington. McPhee also said that Ovechkin would not receive an MRI exam until being examined by team physician Ben Shaffer.
The Capitals also will have to wait to learn whether Ovechkin will face any supplementary discipline from the NHL. All game misconducts are reviewed by the league and are subject to an automatic $200 fine, but rulings don't have to be announced until prior to the next game.
Because boarding and kneeing fall under separate categories of major infractions, it's not believed that Ovechkin will receive an automatic suspension.
Even minus their best player, the Capitals delivered a win.
Theodore, who made his first start in more than two weeks, needed a strong performance to restore Boudreau's confidence in him. Consider that done.
Before Ovechkin was injured, though, the star winger helped the Capitals bounce back from an early 1-0 deficit.
Carolina defenseman Joe Corvo opened the scoring on the power play at 4 minutes 35 seconds. But only 96 seconds later, Ovechkin and Backstrom executed a nifty give and go that Backstrom finished off by stuffing Ovechkin's pass underneath Michael Leighton (30 saves).
After the Capitals killed off the five-minute penalty assessed to Ovechkin, Eric Fehr scored his fourth goal in three games, converting an odd-man rush after a slick cross-ice pass from Backstrom, who recorded his 26th point in his 26th game on the play.
Backstrom's first goal in 13 games, scored late in the second period, pushed the Capitals' lead to 3-1.
"I'm a little disappointed the second one went in, because [Theodore] deserved a one-goal game," Boudreau said of Matt Cullen's goal with 16 seconds remaining. "The first seven minutes, when they had 13 shots, they kept us in. It should have been two- or three-nothing."
Notes: Carolina's Corvo was taken to the hospital after suffering a skate cut on his right leg during a collision with Karl Alzner in the first period. . . .
Tyler Sloan returned from attending a funeral in Calgary on Saturday night and was in the lineup as a forward. Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn took the morning skate but was held out of his sixth consecutive contest because of a concussion. . . . Alexander Semin missed his seventh consecutive game with a wrist injury. But the winger has been skating at Kettler Capitals Iceplex and remains on target to return Thursday. . . . Tom Poti (bruised chest), Mike Knuble (broken finger), Boyd Gordon (sore back) and Quintin Laing (broken jaw) were out. . . . Jay Beagle was a healthy scratch in favor of Sloan.