Only three Washington Capitals are expected to finish the regular season Saturday having played in all 82 games, and they followed one another into the dressing room after practice Thursday morning. Alex Ovechkin was the first in, followed by John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov, all dripping sweat and looking exhausted as they prepared for the final regular season game of another grueling season.
Thursday night, Ovechkin was honored for playing 1,000 career games, a milestone he could not have reached without logging 11 seasons of at least 78 regular season games. But going wire-to-wire in all 82 games has meaning in itself, and when Ovechkin takes the ice for the finale Saturday night against New Jersey at Capital One Arena, he will have completed his second consecutive 82-game season and the fourth of his career. Washington Coach Barry Trotz said he considered sitting Ovechkin for the final two games of the regular season to rest him for the playoffs, but that idea was nixed.
“If I’m healthy, if I feel good, I don’t want to miss any games, because it’s my life. I enjoy to play,” the 32-year-old Ovechkin said. “Sometimes you don’t enjoy practice, but when you step on the ice to play hockey, that’s really cool stuff.”
Carlson and Orlov have carved out their own sterling reputations for endurance. Carlson played in 412 straight games, 10 shy of the franchise record, before he was forced to sit with an injury during the 2015-16 season. He only played in 56 games that year, and another injury forced him to sit out 10 games last season. But he played in every regular season game from 2010-11 to 2014-15 (including all 48 in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season).
“I have thought about it, but there’s a lot more than goes into it. A lot of it is luck. You just never know. You never take anything for granted. It’s a big testament for a player to be able to play in all 82 games with the speed and physicality of the sport,” Carlson said. “For the amount of time it takes to play a season, it’s hard. Not many people do it.”
The numbers back up Carlson’s assertion. Only 10.1 percent of the NHL’s players appeared in all of their team’s games last season, according to ESPN, which marked just the third time since 1980 that the number has topped 10 percent.
Orlov has been a model of consistency as well, playing in every regular season game in each of the past two seasons, and he’s set to make it three straight Saturday. The broken wrist that cost him all of the 2014-15 season has given him extra appreciation for his streak.
“The next season when I came to play, I was ready. … More games gave me confidence,” he said. “Right now, it’s been three years, and I feel comfortable. So it’s good. I’m on the right way.”
As Carlson slowly kicked off his skates after Thursday’s practice, still two games from completing his full season, he quipped, “I’m not there yet.” Anything at any moment on the ice can spoil the conditioning work behind the scenes. But Carlson remembers the days he was injured and arriving at the rink on a different schedule than his teammates, which has only fueled him more during the grind of a regular season that runs from October to April.
“It matters. It matters to everyone. You always want to be there for the guys you go to work with,” Carlson said. “When you take that away, it’s not the best.”
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