Alex Ovechkin began his long journey back from Sochi, Russia with his girlfriend, a Coke and a smile.
With a pair of Instagram photos [here and here], the Capitals’ 28-year-old captain Ovechkin closed the chapter on his emotional two-week Winter Olympic experience and let the world know he’s on his way back to Washington to resume his NHL season with the Capitals.
Capitals coach Adam Oates said he exchanged text messages with Ovechkin over the weekend and was informed he’d see Ovechkin on Tuesday when the Capitals gather at Kettler Capitals Iceplex to begin preparations for Thursday night’s game against the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Fla.
“He said his dad is feeling better and hopefully, that continues to happen,” Oates said, referring to the emergency heart procedure Ovechkin’s father, Mikhail, underwent in Sochi on Sunday, Feb 16.
Ovechkin is expected to be joined by fellow Capitals Olympians Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson, who helped lead Sweden to a silver medal, and John Carlson and Marty Erat, who failed to medal for USA and the Czech Republic.
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Oates said all five players will have the option of skating with their teammates on Tuesday or waiting until Wednesday to hit the ice.
“No one won [gold], so I imagine they’ll have a little disappointment,” Oates said. “I’m sure Ovi the most because in their country, everybody wanted them to win for the right reasons. So he’s probably the most upset.
“I thought Carly did a great job. Backy and JoJo obviously did a great job because they were in the final.”
Last week, Capitals general manager George McPhee said he expects Ovechkin to be “pretty darn good” when the Capitals begin their quest for a seventh straight season in the playoffs. Through his first 55 games, Ovechkin leads the NHL with 40 goals. He was held to just one goal on 24 shots in five Olympic games.
“Alex is a very proud guy, but it’s not an individual sport, it’s a team sport,” Caps teammate Brooks Laich said. “It’s always going to be that way. There was so much pressure facing [Russia] after Canada won gold in Canada.
“Russia’s supposed to win in Russia and it didn’t work out that way. Our guy, when he comes back we’ll welcome him with open arms. He’s still the leader on our hockey team and we’re going to be proud to have him. I’m sure he’s going to be motivated.”
With the Capitals one point out of a playoff spot and needing to climb three teams to get there, Capitals defenseman John Erskine said they’ll need their captain to be focused in their final 23 games of the regular season.
“I know they had high expectations,” Erskine said. “I know it’s a letdown for him, but it happens. He’s a professional. Hopefully, he can put that behind him. He has some time before we get back at it. He’ll be good.”
Caps defenseman Karl Alzner agreed, saying a characteristic all great players possess is the ability to focus on whatever is ahead of them.
“I’d have to keep it all inside and wait until the summer to think about it again,” Alzner said. “All those guys have a goal in the NHL they’re trying to accomplish. I would imagine he’ll come back and focus on that because you go all winter trying to win a Stanley Cup.”