The Capitals did not need Alex Ovechkin this past weekend, winning two games and scoring nine goals without their leading goal scorer, but he might return from an injury-induced absence Tuesday against the New York Islanders.
“It looks like I’m probably going to play tomorrow,” Ovechkin said after fully participating in practice Monday. “I’m happy to be back.”
Coach Adam Oates would not commit to that, calling Ovechkin a “game-time decision,” but he did say he does not expect the injury to persist.
“I wouldn’t play him if I thought it was something that could linger,” Oates said. “He’ll be close to 100 percent to play. It doesn’t make sense to play a guy right now with something that’s lingering. And I don’t think that’s the case.”
Ovechkin suffered an apparent shoulder injury during the first period of Washington’s 3-2 loss to Vancouver last Monday. According to Ovechkin, who admitted to still feeling sore, head athletic trainer Greg Smith told him that he could probably play through the ailment without making it worse.
With Ovechkin back in the fold, the Capitals’ forward lines underwent a drastic makeover during practice Monday. Brooks Laich joined Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the first line, while Eric Fehr, who served as Ovechkin’s replacement at first-line right wing Friday and Saturday, became a part of the second line with Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer.
The team’s most productive trio as of late — Jason Chimera, Mikhail Grabovski and Joel Ward — remained intact, but Martin Erat found himself on the fourth line once again after skating on the top line against the Flyers and Panthers. Earlier this season, Erat expressed frustration over his diminished role, but said Monday that he understood Oates’ decision after the two discussed it before practice.
The lines showcased during practice Monday might differ from the ones today against the Islanders. Oates mentioned that some players were “banged up” and that adjustments were being made.