Alex Ovechkin will skip the NHL All-Star Game in St. Louis next month despite being voted Metropolitan Division captain by fans. This is the second year in a row the Washington Capitals’ 34-year-old captain has decided to skip the contest, citing the need to be physically at his best for the second half of the season and the playoffs.

“Thanks, first of all, fans for voting me,” Ovechkin said after the Capitals’ 2-1 overtime win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night. “It’s a hard decision, but I have to listen to my body. I have to get ready for the second half of the year. I have to be healthy and focus on different things. It’s a hard decision, obviously, being the captain and missing the All-Star Game, but have to do best for me and for my team.”

Ovechkin said taking the extra days off last season helped him and he wants to take the time when the opportunity presents itself. And with the all-star break coming on the tail end of the Capitals’ bye week, it will give him more than a week off. Ovechkin’s announcement comes less than a week after he was selected to the All-Star Game for the 11th time in his 15-year career.

He has played in seven All-Star Games (2007 to 2009, 2011, 2015, 2017 and 2018) and was voted captain of the Metropolitan Division for the third consecutive year and fourth time overall.

“If I was 21, yeah, I’m healthy, I’m good, but I have to think about the second half of the year and the playoffs,” Ovechkin said. “That’s the most important thing for me and for this organization as well.”

Ovechkin’s decision will come at a cost: He will be suspended for one game preceding or following the all-star break. The Capitals play the New York Islanders before the break and then travel to play Montreal after. Ovechkin did not specify which game he would elect to miss.

“You don’t want to miss the game, but the rules are the rules,” Ovechkin said. “I’m healthy, thank God, and I just made this decision because I have to be in good shape and I have to be ready and good in the playoffs. The most important thing is not the regular year, it’s the playoffs.”

Capitals Coach Todd Reirden said he knew the decision was difficult for Ovechkin but was something he put a lot of “time and thought into” and supported his decision.

“It’s the right thing for him at age 34 to rest and get ready for what he ultimately wants, and that’s another run at the Cup,” Reirden said. “That’s what he’s playing the game for now. He’s achieved so many things individually and obviously been in seven or eight all-star games already. This is what he thinks is right and gives him the best chance to play at his absolute peak as we get into the second half and into playoff hockey.”