After sitting out the last two games with an upper body injury, Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin was back on the ice for practice on Monday, taking part in full contact drills. “It looks like I’m probably going to play tomorrow [against the visiting New York Islanders],” Ovechkin said, “and I’m happy to be back.”
Ovechkin, who is tied for third in the NHL with 10 goals, was injured last Monday night when he crashed into Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo on a first-period breakaway. When asked what part of his game is hampered the most by his injury, Ovechkin said, “Probably everything.” Oates said Ovechkin’s availability for Tuesday night’s game against the Islanders would be determined before the game.
“I wouldn’t play him if I thought it was something that could linger,” Oates said. “He’ll be close to 100 percent to play. It doesn’t make sense to play a guy with something that’s lingering and I don’t see that as the case.”
With Ovechkin out of the lineup the Caps beat the Flyers and Panthers by a combined score of 10-2. They are now 13-8-2 in games Ovechkin has not played in his career in Washington.
“They don’t need me,” Ovechkin joked. “They win two games. It’s kind of scary to go back to a line and mess with the lines. We’ll see.”
In those two wins Capitals coach Adam Oates went with a top line of center Nicklas Backstrom between left wing Marty Erat and right wing Eric Fehr.
On Monday his top line had Ovechkin and Backstrom with left wing Brooks Laich.
“It’s not my decision who’s going to be out there,” Ovechkin said. “It’s Oatesy’s decision. It doesn’t matter which line you’re on, you just have to play.”
The Caps practiced with a second line of center Marcus Johansson between left wing Eric Fehr and right wing Troy Brouwer. The red-hot third line remained the same with Mikhail Grabovski between left wing Jason Chimera and right wing Joel Ward, while the fourth line had Michael Latta between Erat and right wing Tom Wilson.
Center Jay Beagle and left wing Aaron Volpatti rotated on and off that fourth line.
Erat said he spoke with Oates before practice and did not seem overly upset with the demotion to the fourth line, suggesting things might change Tuesday night against the Islanders. Oates also said his lines could be different on Tuesday, which means Erat could be back on the top line.
“We’ll see tomorrow,” Erat said.
Erat was unhappy with his playing time earlier this season and spoke with Caps general manager George McPhee.
“I’m just trying to focus on hockey right now,” Erat said last week. “Enough was said and we’ll see how it’s handled.
“Right now the most important thing is to get two points. I’m not focusing on what’s going on around me. If I focused on that I wouldn’t be able to be here playing.”
The Capitals also recalled defenseman Dmitry Orlov from the Hershey Bears, about 24 hours after he was assigned there. Orlov registered a goal and an assist in the Bears’ 4-3 shootout loss to Norfolk Sunday night.
- Chuck Gormley, CSN Washington