WASHINGTON – Already without leading scorer Nicklas Backstrom because of a concussion and No.1 defenseman Mike Green due to a groin injury, the Capitals will now be minus captain Alex Ovechkin for the next three games.
Ovechkin was suspended Monday for “a charging incident in which he launched himself to hit Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek,” according to a statement from the NHL. The hit occurred during the second period of the Caps 4-3 overtime loss Sunday in Pittsburgh.
In everyday terms, Ovechkin left his feet to complete a hit, the type of play the NHL is badly trying to remove from the game.
The hit also resulted in contact to Michalek’s head, further adding to the NHL’s concern while reviewing the play.
Ovechkin was not available to the media after the suspension was announced, but earlier in the day the Caps captain acknowledged that he and his teammates were looking to play a more physical brand of hockey in Sunday’s second period.
“[When] we play aggressive,” Ovechkin explained, “we have opportunities to win the game and to score goals. It’s something that we were missing [last Friday] in Carolina and in the first period in Pittsburgh.”
Ovechkin would not specifically discuss his hit on Michalek, waiting instead to speak with NHL head disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan.
Ovechkin had a telephone hearing with the NHL Monday afternoon.
As with all suspensions this season, Shanahan gave a thorough explanation of the league’s decision in a two-minute, 32-second video which can be found on the NHL’s official website.
“Although Michalek’s shoulder might be the initial point of contact for this hit, the act of launching causes contact to Michalek’s head,” Shanahan explained. “Often on big hits or collisions, a player’s feet will come off the ice slightly as a result of the impact. This, however, is not one of those occasions.”
Ovechkin, 26, is a repeat offender, having twice been suspended during the 2009-10 season.
In Nov. 2009, Ovechkin received a two-game ban for a knee-on-knee hit with Hurricanes defenseman Tim Gleason. In March 2010, Ovechkin was suspended two games for a hit from behind on then-Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell.
The Capitals went 3-0-1 in the four games Ovechkin missed due to suspension that season, out scoring opponents 24-11.
“Instead of feeling sorry for yourselves and wondering what’s going to happen,” Mike Knuble said Monday, “it’s a chance for guys to play more and to do well and to have maybe a bigger role than they normally would.”
Knuble pointed to Mathieu Perreault as an example after the 24-year-old center saw top line minutes Sunday in Pittsburgh with both Backstrom and Marcus Johansson sidelined. Perreault had two assists and skated a career high 16:22 in the overtime loss.
“Alex takes up a big chunk of ice time on the power play and during the course of the game, and that time has to be dispersed and it’s a chance for someone else to step up,” Knuble said. “You don’t want to go the long run like that, but on a game-to-game basis, some players have to look forward to the opportunity.”
The three-game ban will cost Ovechkin $154,677.75 in forfeited salary. The money goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.
Ovechkin will miss Tuesday’s home game against the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins as well as road games next week in Florida and Tampa Bay.
The Capitals all-star has appeared in all 47 games this season collecting 20 goals and 39 points. He will be eligible to return Feb. 4 against the Montreal Canadiens.
As of Monday night, Ovechkin was still expected to take part in this weekend’s All-Star game festivities in Ottawa.
Catch the Capitals and Bruins Tuesday at 7pm. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 6:45 p.m. on Federal News Radio, WFED 1500AM and online at www.wfed.com.