It's long been suspected that the decrease in Alex Ovechkin's(notes) goal productivity this year has either been due to injury or a different mindset about the value of the regular season, after the Washington Capitals postseason frustrations in the last three years.
Those theories collided on Monday when the Caps announced Ovechkin would miss their game at the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night; a critical tilt in the Eastern Conference with the Flyers holding a two-point lead for first place (with two games in-hand).
So Russian Machine never breaks, but occasionally can use some rest. From Mike Vogel, who broke the story on the Caps website:
With Washington's playoff berth all but cemented with three weeks remaining in the season, and with Tuesday's game in Philadelphia being the only game the Capitals play over a span of six days, this was the optimal time for Ovechkin to step back for a few games and take some time to heal up and get his body ready for the rigorous run that is the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"He just needs to take some time off to get completely healed up," says Caps' general manager George McPhee, who estimates the Caps' captain would require somewhere in the neighborhood of 7-10 days away from the lineup. …
"He's been bothered by this nagging ailment for a couple of months," says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. "We just thought we'd take care of it now. His body needs a little bit of rest. We thought this was a good time to rest his body for a week to two weeks so he's fresh come April."
The Capitals don't play again until Friday (gotta get down on Friday, by the way) against the Ottawa Senators. As Vogel notes, Ovechkin's ice time has been below average in several games recently, including 15:24 TOI against the New Jersey Devils last game.
Washington management is making this sound like a maintenance day down the stretch, and it's a bold time to rest him: Chasing the Flyers, holding a not-that-insurmountable five-point lead in the Southeast and, let's face it, playing a nationally televised game for the NHL's U.S. cable partner.
But it also shows the Capitals have a laser-focus on the playoffs this season, from their deadline acquisitions to resting a player that seemingly never needs it.
Which will give Ovie more time to hang out with this new friend … MICHAEL VICK?!?