Once again among the first Washington Capitals on the ice, forward Alex Ovechkin participated fully in Saturday’s optional morning skate but still considered himself a game-time decision for the night’s matchup against Buffalo.
“We’ll see,” Ovechkin said. “I’m probably going to take a warmup and we’ll see how it goes.”
The lower-body injury Ovechkin suffered Tuesday in Columbus, on one specific play he declined to identify, sidelined the Capitals’ captain from Thursday’s loss against Minnesota, the first game he has missed this season. He did not practice Friday, after taking one slap shot, feeling pain and leaving the rink. Ovechkin said the soreness has lessened, though not disappeared entirely.
“It was a pain, probably if it was a playoff game, I would be in,” he said. “Right now, you don’t want to push when you don’t feel healthy enough. Right now I feel much better so I’m going to try.
“I still was a little bit soreness, but I think you can ask everybody in the locker room right now, somebody have soreness in everybody.”
After hosting the league-worst Sabres, the Capitals have a scheduled off-day Sunday then two practice days before welcoming the New York Rangers. Both Ovechkin and Coach Barry Trotz said the team would exercise caution with the NHL’s leading goal-scorer, keeping the relatively relaxed upcoming calendar in mind.
Trotz planned to give Ovechkin authority on his status, but also promised to speak with trainers to “get a sense of where he feels he is.” Ovechkin said he would judge his health based on puck-handling and skating ability during warmups, then make the final call. Without Ovechkin during his career, the Capitals have gone 13-11-2.
“If it was same pain like I have a couple days ago, I would probably don’t even take a morning skate right now,” Ovechkin said. “I feel much better [than] yesterday.”
If Ovechkin cannot go, rookie forward Andre Burakovsky will start his second straight game after getting an emergency recall from the American Hockey League following Ovechkin’s injury. Burakovsky skated on an all-Swedish line with Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom, producing several prime scoring chances but not finding the net.
If Ovechkin indeed plays, Burakovsky will get sent back to Hershey, so the Capitals can avoid burning one of their four non-emergency, post-deadline recalls. They could theoretically keep Burakovsky around and retroactively use one of those recalls, but that does not seem like the likely scenario.
“If he does go, Andre has to go back to Hershey, unless we were to recall him, then he’d be up for the rest of the year, in my opinion,” Trotz said. “We want to save the recalls a little bit right now, so that’s why I say it’ll be mandatory, unless we said we’re going to go with the group that we have and he can stay and not send him back. Then that’ll have to turn him into a regular recall.”
Trotz reiterated that Burakovsky’s stay with the Hershey Bears, who play Sunday at home, will not follow a definitive timetable.
“He needs to be playing all the time,” Trotz said. “The more he’s playing, the better it’ll be for us. When he comes up, he’s going to play a pretty significant role for us, I think.”
Injured forward Michael Latta (lower body) skated with strength coach Mark Nemish after practice. Latta will not play against Buffalo, but Trotz said he could return as early as Wednesday to face the Rangers.