Alex Ovechkin skated for the first time in five days when he took to the ice in full pads at the Washington Capitals’ Arlington practice facility on Wednesday. The session lasted fewer than 10 minutes, but it was a positive sign for the star left wing, who said he is on track to return in the next five to seven days.
In his first comments about the nagging injury that forced him to take seven to 10 days off beginning on Monday, Ovechkin said he had been dealing with the ailment — the nature of which neither he nor team officials would disclose — for two months. Discussions about taking him out of the lineup to heal began two weeks ago, he said.
“It was our collective decision. We talk about probably two weeks before that and again, it was pretty hard,” Ovechkin said. “But when we win some games in a row and felt good, we just said, ‘Okay, it’s time to do it right now.’ ”
Washington clinched its fourth consecutive playoff berth with a 5-4 shootout victory over Philadelphia on Tuesday. It was the first game Ovechkin has missed this season, but despite his frustration with sitting on the sideline, he said Wednesday that getting ready for the postseason is the most important thing he can do.
“I think right now we clinch playoff spot and right now all the organization focus is about playoffs,” Ovechkin said. “I think right now is a good time to, you know, make some rest for my body. I feel something couple months, I have it and right now it’s a good time to recover [from] it and be good in playoffs.”
Ovechkin avoided all questions about the specific nature of his injury, asking reporters to guess. He evaded an inquiry about whether the layoff was purely for rest or coincided with minor surgery, joking that he underwent a five-hour procedure and was sedated. The NHL does not require teams to detail injury information.
Though Ovechkin likely will miss both of the Capitals’ games this weekend — a back-to-back slate on the road against Ottawa and Montreal — Coach Bruce Boudreau wouldn’t rule out the possibility that the captain or veteran center Jason Arnott, who has missed four games with an undisclosed injury, may travel with the team to Canada. Boudreau also said he believes Ovechkin and Arnott are progressing faster than the Capitals anticipated and that he wouldn’t be surprised if both were back in the lineup by the end of next week.
Arnott skated for a third consecutive day on Wednesday in warmup gear and afterward discussed his injury for the first time since he missed the Capitals’ trip to Montreal on March 15. The veteran center didn’t go into specifics, except to confirm that he has dealt with the same ailment in the past.
“Yeah,” Arnott said. “I think I’ve been through every injury possible, so yeah, I know what to expect and know what it takes to come back, and hopefully it’ll be soon.”
He added that the injury “was building up for a while” but that it didn’t start until after he was acquired from New Jersey at the trade deadline.
Based on Arnott’s light skate before the team’s practice on Wednesday, it appeared the injury that forced him out of the past four games is affecting his lower body. On Monday, sources said Arnott was suffering from a groin injury. He has previously missed time in 2002, ’03 and ’04 with groin injuries and also suffered knee injuries in three seasons 2001, ’03 and most recently in 2006, when he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his knee.
“It’s getting better every day. Hopefully, I’ll be back soon,” Arnott said, declining to put a timetable on his return.
For his part, Boudreau doesn’t accept any excuses for his team in the final stretch of the regular season, even if the Capitals were to play their last eight games without two of their top six forwards.
“I’ve always believed that you just put somebody in and you expect them to do the exact job that somebody else did,” Boudreau said. “It’s not like we’re changing systems or anything like that. I don’t think it’s that tough. You’ve just got to believe that the guys that go in there are going to do the job.”