By STEPHEN WHYNO
AP Hockey Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — Alex Ovechkin did not skate with his Washington Capitals teammates Tuesday morning and his status moving forward is unclear with the start of the playoffs less than a week away.
Ovechkin was listed as day to day with an upper-body injury, and coach Peter Laviolette called his captain a game-time decision to face the New York Islanders in the third to last game of the regular season. But the team is being extra cautious with the 36-year-old star, and Laviolette made that clear when asked if he was optimistic about Ovechkin being ready for the start of the first round.
“I want to say I hope so, but I don’t know,” Laviolette said after Washington’s morning skate. “It depends on how things progress with him, so it’s day to day right now.”
Ovechkin tripped over Toronto goaltender Erik Kallgren’s stick and slammed into the boards left shoulder first early in the third period Sunday night in a shootout loss to the Maple Leafs.. He lay on the ice in pain, skated off and did not return.
The Russian winger has only missed 24 games because of injury during his 17-year NHL career. He has never missed a playoff game.
“He’s always around, and he’s always playing,” longtime teammate Nicklas Backstrom said. “His style of play, you’re going to get injured. But I just think mentally he’s so strong. He plays through everything. It’s just the way he is as a guy. He doesn’t miss games. And it doesn’t matter how hurt he is. He’s one of those guys you can always count on.”
Ovechkin earlier this season passed Jaromir Jagr for third on the career goals list and now trails only Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howie. He has 50 this season — the ninth time he has done that, tying Gretzky and Mike Bossy for the NHL record.
Durability has helped Ovechkin play 1,274 regular-season and 141 playoff games since making his debut in 2005.
“Sometimes there’s got to be a little bit of luck to it, but he’s a really strong guy,” Laviolette said. “He hates not playing the game. He hates being out so he’s going to want to be back as soon as possible and we’re going to make sure that he’s in a good spot to do that.”
With Ovechkin expected to be out, Connor McMichael steps into the top line left wing spot alongside Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson. He has not played since April 10.
“It’s a huge opportunity for me to prove myself going into the playoffs and kind of prove to the coaches that when guys do get hurt that I am ready to fill that void,” McMichael said. “Ovi, he will be OK. He is a warrior, and he’s been out before and he seems to always come back so we are looking forward to having him back — whenever that is.”
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