The Washington Capitals received positive reports from Belarus on Monday indicating that star winger Alex Ovechkin was not severely injured by a violent hip check he absorbed Sunday in a preliminary-round game at the IIHF World Championships.
While Ovechkin’s right knee is swollen and sore, an MRI exam showed that the 28-year-old did not suffer any torn ligaments, according to a report on the IIHF Web site.
Vladislav Tretiak, president of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, told Slava Malamud of Sport Express that Ovechkin’s “diagnosis didn’t reveal a serious ligament damage. The worst is avoided.”
It’s believed Ovechkin sprained his knee, which shouldn’t impact his availability for the Capitals’ upcoming season assuming no additional injuries occur as the summer progresses. That, of course, makes any decision about whether he will play for Russia again in this tournament all the more important.
The Capitals have always permitted Ovechkin to represent Russia in the world championships, but this injury scare offered the reminder that each time he suits up for international competition his health — and the trajectory of the Capitals — is potentially at risk.
Ovechkin, who has missed only 16 games due to injury over nine NHL seasons, will sit out Russia’s final preliminary game on Tuesday but national team officials didn’t rule out the possibility of him returning to the lineup. The winger is tied for third in scoring in the tournament, with nine points and three goals through six games.
Ovechkin “will definitely stay with the team. Even if he couldn’t play he’d still be here. He’s not just part of this team, he’s a leader,” Russian general manager Andrei Safronov told reporters in Minsk, as quoted on the IIHF Web site. “He’s okay at the moment. There’s some pain, but he’s working with doctors.”
Safronov also alluded to Ovechkin, who cares greatly about his ability to represent Russia, eventually trying to return to the lineup.
“Knowing Sasha if there’s even a five percent chance he can play, he’ll want to be out there,” Safronov said.
The injury occurred in the third period of Russia’s 3-0 win over Germany on Sunday when Marcus Kink collided with Ovechkin, striking the winger’s right knee on impact. Ovechkin lay on the ice, writhing in pain, unable to stand or put any weight on his right leg as he was carried to the dressing room. Kink, who wasn’t penalized at the time of the hit, has been suspended by the IIHF for one game.
As worrisome as the initial scene was, Ovechkin has been walking on his own, albeit with a limp, since he returned to the Russian team’s hotel in Belarus from the hospital.
The balance between the two sides of Ovechkin’s career — his commitment to the Capitals, who will pay him $10 million annually for the next seven years as part of a 13-year, $124 million contract, and his nationalistic endeavors — has always been an intriguing part of his stardom.
Washington’s medical staff is in contact with Russian officials to monitor Ovechkin’s status. But with Russia hoping for success on the international stage at the world championships after its disappointing showing at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, it will be interesting to see whether Ovechkin tries to play again this spring.