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Caps prepare to face Panthers without Ovechkin

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Caps prepare to face Panthers without Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin was on the ice for practice Monday as the team returned from the All-Star break, but he won't be there on Tuesday when the team faces the Florida Panthers. Ovechkin was dealt a one-game suspension for electing not to participate in the All-Star Game due to a lingering lower-body injury and now the Caps will have to find a way to win without him.

That's easier said than done considering the last time Ovechkin missed a game.

Head coach Barry Trotz suspended Ovechkin for one game in October after he overslept and was late to morning skate. Things did not go well, as the Caps lost 5-1 to the San Jose Sharks.

The team is hoping they can avoid similar outcome Tuesday against Florida.

"When you're missing the best player on  your team it's hard to do anything to fill that void," Karl Alzner said. "We have guys that can play his roles. Can they do them as good as him? Maybe on some days, but he's pretty special so I think we just need more work and a little bit extra from every guy."

When asked what he learned about the team the last time they played without Ovechkin, Trotz said, "He's a big part of our team. He affects the power play, he's a game-changer, he's a special player. That's what I learned.

"We're not the same team without him."

RELATED: Kuznetsov named First Star of the month for January

The Caps' task will be even more difficult given the fact that Philipp Grubauer will start over Braden Holtby.

Despite the challenge the Caps will face without arguably their two best players on Tuesday, Ovechkin was confident that the right decision had been made regarding his health.

"We just decide to do that so my body and my mind's going to be ready for the rest of the year," Ovechkin said.

His teammates were also supportive of the decision.

"Guys are banged up," Alzner said. "That's why we all look forward to the All-Star break, so we get some time to rest and the guys that are going to those games are the guys that play the most minutes in the league and they need time too. If they have a nagging injury, you need to think what's better in the long run."

Trotz had not yet decided after practice how he was going to replace Ovechkin in the lineup. The absence of Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov — who were given the day off after the All-Star Game — and Marcus Johansson — day-to-day with an injury — did not allow the head coach to experiment with his lines.

"There's two things," Trotz said. "I can keep the lines fairly current if you will and I can move a guy like [Stanislav Galiev] up or I can move some other guys up. Just depends on how much I want to move around."

The Caps have excelled this season at finding different ways to win games. On Tuesday, they will have to find a way to beat the second best team in the East without their two best players.

The Caps, however, will gladly give away two points if it means a healthy Ovechkin for the postseason.

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3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

You may think this was an ugly four-game road trip for the Caps, but with a 3-2 win in Buffalo on Monday, Washington managed to earn five out of a possible eight points.

Here is why the Caps beat the Sabres and managed to save the road swing.

A missed high-stick (maybe) from Ovechkin

Ovechkin scored the first goal of the game in the second period as he deflected a high-shot from Christian Djoos down past goalie Chad Johnson. But did the deflection come on a high stick? The play was reviewed and the goal was ultimately upheld. According to the NHL, it was determined that "video review supported the Referee's call on the ice that Alex Ovechkin's stick was at or below the height of the crossbar when he tipped the puck into the Buffalo net."

NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May broke the play down during the second intermission and made his case for why the NHL actually got the call wrong.

Was that a high stick? I don't know. As compelling an argument as May made, it still looks inconclusive which means the review made the right call. What surprises me is that the referee did not disallow the goal on the initial call.

Whether the review is truly inconclusive or flat out wrong, Washington was fortunate to walk away from this sequence with the goal.

MORE CAPITALS: BIZARRE SEQUENCE LEADS TO CAPS SCORING AND GETTING PENALIZED AT THE SAME TIME

A centimeter of ice

Hockey is a game of inches and it took less than an inch to put Washington up 2-0. When an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot hit off the boards and bounced back to the front of the net, it sparked a scrum next to goalie Chad Johnson. Eventually, John Carlson was able to get a swipe on the puck sending it trickling to the goal line, but Kyle Okposo was there waiting and appeared to kick it out to safety just before it crossed. A review triggered by the Situation Room, however, revealed that the puck had just barely managed to cross the goal line before Okposo got to it.

Here's the view the NHL released after the review:

Philipp Grubauer's third period

After dominating the first 40 minutes of the game and taking a 2-0 lead, Buffalo predictably made a late push in the third period with two goals to pull within one. Washington outshot the Sabres in the first and second periods, but Buffalo reversed that trend in a big way in the third as they outshot the Caps 17-6. Grubauer turned aside 15 of those shots and was impressive after barely being tested in the first two periods.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-SABRE

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3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

Coming off an ugly 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, a Buffalo Sabres team missing star Jack Eichel was just what the doctor ordered for the Caps to get back on track. Washington dominated the first two periods and then survived a late surge from Buffalo for the 3-2 win.

After battling to a scoreless first, Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson spotted Washington a 2-0 lead in the second. They then held on in the third period as Buffalo began to tilt the ice in their favor, with Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring the empty-netter to put this game out of reach. Evander Kane would pull Buffalo within one, but with only three seconds left it was too little, too late.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Alex Ovechkin: Ovechkin opened up the scoring in the second period as he deflected down an innocent shot from Christian Djoos past Chad Johnson.

Ovechkin also set a physical tone as he battled with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen all game long. After taking a high elbow from Ristolainen early in the game Ovechkin skated up to Ristolainen prior to the faceoff on his next shift and let him know that it was on. 

2. John Carlson: Carlson had a hand in both of Washington's first two goals. He recorded a secondary assist on Ovechkin's goal as he made a blue line pass to Djoos which Djoos fired on net and Ovechkin deflected. Carlson then managed to hit the puck past the goal line in a scrum next to Johnson. It looked initially like Kyle Okposo had managed to kick out the puck just before it crossed, but Carlson was awarded the goal as a review showed the puck had completely crossed the line.

3. Philipp Grubauer: A Sabres team that ranks last in the NHL in scoring and that was also without its leading scorer did not test Grubauer much in the first two periods. Facing a 2-0 deficit, however, Buffalo made a third period push to try to tie the game, but Grubauer was up to the task as he turned aside 15 of the 17 shots he faced in the final 20 minutes. He finished with 32 total saves on the night.