ARLINGTON, Va. – Alex Ovechkin will be away from the Washington Capitals to attend to a family matter and the health of a loved one and is expected to be gone for at least the rest of the week, if not longer.
General manager Brian MacLellan announced Ovechkin's absence before the team's morning skate Tuesday. No further details were released, though it appears Washington is preparing to be without its longtime captain and face of the franchise for an extended period.
Coach Peter Laviolette said he doesn't envision Ovechkin will be back “in the foreseeable future.”
“When it comes to your family and parents, that’s what matters,” Laviolette said. "He’s going to deal with some things right now and we’re going to be supportive."
Further complicating matters if Ovechkin needs to go home to Russia, where his parents and other family members live, are travel restrictions in place amid the country's war in Ukraine. There are no direct flights between North America and Moscow.
The Capitals play two home games this week before facing the Carolina Hurricanes in the NHL’s Stadium Series outdoors in Raleigh on Saturday night.
“Sending positive thoughts on behalf of the organization,” the Hurricanes posted on Twitter before the team played at the Capitals on Tuesday night. “There is nothing more important than those we love. We are wishing the best for Alex and his family.”
Ovechkin, 37, leads Washington with 32 goals and 54 points. He has missed only 48 games throughout his 18-year NHL career, and the Capitals have lost 25 of them.
“We’ve been playing without key guys all season and last year and the year before. We’re going to miss him,” center Lars Eller said. “We’re a better team when he’s in our lineup, but other guys will have to fill the gap in the meantime and we can do that.”
The Capitals have been playing without top defenseman John Carlson since he took a puck to the head on Dec. 23. Also missing are first-line right winger Tom Wilson, fourth-line center Nic Dowd and now Ovechkin, so the team recalled winger Joe Snively from Hershey of the American Hockey League.
In all aspects of the game, Washington looks different without Ovechkin, who is the league's career leader in power-play goals thanks to his signature spot in the left faceoff circle.
“Obviously teams are used to seeing (Ovechkin in) his office, so we all know what he’s capable of there, how he can score from there,” longtime teammate Nicklas Backstrom said. "Definitely going to miss him, but at the same time we have to find other ways to create chances and try to capitalize there.”
The Capitals enter an important stretch in a precarious position: holding on to one of two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference and in danger of falling out of playoff position by the end of the week. Even before Ovechkin's absence, they have averaged 2.27 goals over their past 14 games.
“You've got to score goals to win games,” Backstrom said. “You’re not going to win games with just one goal. I think we got to be a little more urgent out there we got to be a little more hungrier around the net.”
Ovechkin met with teammates Tuesday before leaving the Capitals' practice facility. That gave players a chance to offer their support before preparing to take the ice without him.
“It’s nice to get to see him and give him a hug and let him know that we’re here for him in person rather than over text,” winger T.J. Oshie said. “We’re thinking about him and we’re missing him and wishing him all the best.”
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