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."
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.