By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin has returned to Russia to be with his ailing grandfather and will miss tonight's contest against the Nashville Predators at Verizon Center and possibly Saturday's game in Buffalo.
Ovechkin's absence will end his team-best consecutive game streak at 203. The only game he missed previously in his three-year plus career came during the 2005-06 season when he was sidelined for one game by a mild groin muscle strain.
General Manager George McPhee said Ovechkin called him Sunday to seek permission to return to Moscow. With McPhee's blessing, Ovechkin left Washington yesterday morning and was expected to depart Atlanta in the evening and arrive today in Moscow.
"He called and was basically looking for permission to go," McPhee said. "So I said, 'Of course.' It wasn't a long conversation. He obviously was upset, and I told him to go take care of things and come back whenever you are ready."
Although the Capitals would only confirm that Ovechkin will miss tonight's game, Konstantin Selinevich, Ovechkin's business manager and a friend of the family, said Ovechkin, as of yesterday afternoon, was scheduled to return to Washington on Sunday.
"It's tough because it had nothing to do with team, it has everything to do with family," Coach Bruce Boudreau said at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. "It's like everybody here, if a loved one, who was very close to us, was not in good health, we would feel the same way. Sometimes he bottles it up. But you can tell from the way he relates with his mother and father that they've got a very close family relationship."
Ovechkin comes from a tight-knit family. His brother Mikhail lives in Washington and his mother, Tatiana, and father, Mikhail, spend a lot of time here. Ovechkin's father attends most of his son's practices and almost every game when he is in town.
Ovechkin's ailing grandfather, Nikolay Kabayev, is the 83-year-old father of Tatiana, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in basketball. He helped care for Ovechkin when he was a boy and the two developed a close bond during Ovechkin's younger years, Selinevich said.
Kabayev has been hospitalized for about two weeks, Selinevich said, but his health took a turn for the worse in the past 48 hours and he was moved into intensive care. It was unclear what's ailing Kabayev, Selinevich sad.
It's also unclear how long Ovechkin has been aware of his grandfather's failing health and whether it has affected the reigning MVP's play this season. Ovechkin is off to the slowest start of his career with two goals and three assists in eight games. Both goals came in the same game, a 4-2 victory over Chicago on Oct. 11.
"Who knows?" Boudreau said. "I didn't ask him that question. I just said, 'You have to get going home.' Because it's more important that he be with his family at a time like this."
McPhee said he also did not know whether Ovechkin has been distracted. "I don't know if it's been an issue or not," McPhee said.
During yesterday's practice, Boudreau shuffled his lines to compensate for Ovechkin's absence. Brooks Laich took Ovechkin's spot, skating on the left side of center Nicklas Backstrom and right wing Viktor Kozlov. It's also possible David Steckel, a scratch Saturday night in Dallas, will replace Laich as the left wing on the second line with center Sergei Fedorov and right wing Alexander Semin, who figures to attract more attention from the Predators with Ovechkin out of the lineup.
"I'm sure it was pulling him two ways," Boudreau said of Ovechkin. "He had to go and he wanted to be near [his grandfather]. But if you know Alex, he didn't want to leave his teammates. That's always a struggle. But in the end he knew what he had to do -- and that's family first.
"But a lot teams miss their star player. If I remember, Sidney Crosby got injured last year. Teams just have to pull up their socks and go."
Capitals Notes: Tonight's game will not be broadcast on television because of the Versus network's exclusive broadcast rights. . . . Semin's 14 points are the most for any Capitals player through the first eight games of a season. . . . Goaltender Brent Johnson is expected to start tonight. Defenseman Tom Poti (groin muscle strain) said he hopes to return Saturday. He's missed the past four games.