Already without leading scorer Nicklas Backstrom (concussion) and star defenseman Mike Green (sports hernia surgery), the Capitals learned Monday they will be without All-Star left wing Alex Ovechkin until Feb. 4, when they visit the Montreal Canadiens.
Ovechkin received a three-game suspension Monday for leaving his feet and ramming his shoulder into the head of Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek in the second period of the Capitals 4-3 overtime loss in Pittsburgh Sunday afternoon.
The fact Ovechkin is a repeat offender certainly played into NHL vice president Brendan Shanahans ruling.
Ovechkin has been suspended twice and fined once by the NHL for previous hits. During the 2009-10 season, he was suspended two games for a hit on Carolinas Tim Gleason and two more games for a hit on Chicagos Brian Campbell. He was also fined 1,000 for hitting Buffalo's Danny Biere from behind in 2007 and fined 2,500 for slew-footing Atlantas Rich Peverley in 2009.
Ovechkins suspension will raise some eyebrows from Capitals fans, especially when considering Michalek got off without a fine or suspension for his elbow to the back of Matt Hendricks head less than five minutes after taking the hit from Ovechkin.
Before his hearing with Shanahan, Ovechkin said he would continue to play his physical brand of hockey, a stance strongly supported by his coach and teammates.
I hope hes not pulling back, teammate Brooks Laich said. I mean, the rest of the league is probably hoping he pulls back. But I dont think you can ever really take the nature out of a competitor. Alex always plays physical. Maybe it will slow him down for a day or two, but I dont think youre ever going to take that out of him.
Some would say Ovechkins physical play backed off a bit after his two suspensions in 2009-10. Mike Knuble said he hopes that doesnt happen when Ovechkin returns.
There might be moments where he has to pull back a little bit, Knuble said, but hitting is a big part of his game, and you hate to see it go away.
As for their ability to cope with the loss of Ovechkin, Backstrom and Green, nearly everyone in the Capitals locker room referenced the Penguins, who have spent parts of this season without stars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang.
Look at Pittsburgh, Capitals coach Dale Hunter said. They had their top two centers out, they had Letang out. You just have to keep battling through it. Other players will come up. With Greenie out, Dmitry Orlov came up and has played well and established himself as a good player.
I thought Matty Perreault did a good job Sunday playing on a top line. Its a big job playing against their top checking line, and he did a good job.
Instead of feeling sorry for yourself as a team and wondering whats going to happen, its a chance for guys to play more and to do well and to have a bigger role than they normally would, Knuble said.
Alex takes up a big chunk of ice time on our power play and during the course of a game. Its got to be dispersed, and it gives somebody else a chance to step up. You dont want to go through a long run without a guy like that, but on a game-to-game basis, some players have to look forward to that opportunity.