Ovechkin tripped, gets penalty shot
Alex Ovechkin skated but did not shoot pucks before Thursday’s practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex and will not play Friday night in Philadelphia against the Flyers with what the team is calling an upper body injury.
Adam Oates confirmed Ovechkin was injured when he was pulled down by Vancouver Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler with 1:19 gone in the Caps’ 3-2 loss Monday night in Vancouver. Ovechkin played the remainder of the game, logging 19:49 of ice time.
Ovechkin crashed head-first into goaltender Roberto Luongo, which may have resulted in a shoulder injury.
“He tripped going full speed and ran into the goalie,” Oates said. “It was a good move. It’s probably just a freak thing.”
Oates said he is hoping Ovechkin will be able to play on Saturday night when the Florida Panthers visit Verizon Center. Ovechkin has not missed a game since Feb, 22, 2012, a 5-2 loss in Ottawa.
He has missed 21 games in his career with the Caps – 13 due to injury or illness and eight due to suspension. The Caps have gone 11-8-2 in those games and have outscored their opponents 71-66.
Ovechkin leads the Caps with 10 goals and 15 points in 12 games and leads the NHL with 75 shots. That’s more shots than Nicklas Backstrom, Mikhail Grabovski, Marcus Johansson and Jason Chmera combined.
“He’s a hell of a player,” said Backstrom, who will center a top line with new linemates Marty Erat on the left and Eric Fehr on the right. “He brings a lot to this team. He’s scored 10 goals already and we’re going to miss that. But at the same time it’s a great opportunity for other players to step up.”
Ovechkin’s absence means a big promotion for Fehr, who has one goal, two assists and is a team-worst minus-8 while averaging 12:05 in ice time this season. In addition to playing with Backstrom and Erat, Laich is expected to replace Ovechkin in the left circle on the first power-play unit with Mike Green, Backstrom, Troy Brouwer and Marcus Johansson. The second unit will have Steve Oleksy at the point, John Carlson in Ovecvhkin's spot in the left circle, Marty Erat on the right halfwall, Joel Ward in the slot and Brooks Laich on the goal line.
“To me,” Oates said, “the philosophy of the power play is that anybody’s interchangeable.”
Fehr joked that playing behind Alex Ovechkin on the power play is like playing behind Tom Brady at quarterback, since Ovechkin often stays on the ice for both power-play units. He worked with Oates on finding areas on the ice to crank power-play one-timers.
“I’ve been practicing all year, so I’m ready for it,” Fehr said. “Ovi does his thing out there and I haven’t had the opportunity. He makes it look easy. I’m not going to be shooting it like him; I’ll have my own spin on it.”
Fehr scored a league-high five goals in the preseason but Oates has had a tough time finding minutes for him behind right wings Ovechkin, Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward. He tried him at center earlier this season and recently dropped him to a fourth line.
“It’s not an audition,” Oates said. “I know what Fehrsie can do as a hockey player. It’s been difficult finding minutes for him because we have a logjam at certain positions. I expect him to play a good game.”
As for other lineup changes, Marcus Johansson has been dropped to second-line center, where he’ll play between Brooks Laich, who was moved to left wing, and Brouwer on the right.
Oates said one reason for the line switches is that he wanted to keep Laich and Brouwer together while keeping the third line of Mikhail Grabovski, Jason Chimera and Joel Ward intact.
Oates did not announce his starting goalie for Friday night, lending to speculation Michal Neuvirth may make his third start of the season in Philadelphia.