It all started with a haircut. Jason Arnott had just been traded to the Capitals and needed one, so Alex Ovechkin offered to take him to have lunch and get a trim at Tysons Galleria.
The teammates have developed a strong bond - mostly off the ice - since then as they've shared time together while recovering from injuries. Both Ovechkin and Arnott returned Tuesday night at Verizon Center in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, and the Caps hope they stay healthy down the stretch.
"They're two really good hockey players, especially offensively. They're a big threat every time they're on the ice," center Marcus Johansson said. "We've missed them when they haven't been playing. Of course, we're happy to get them back."
While they were both out, they watched each Caps game together, with Arnott complaining that Ovechkin didn't like having to sit at home. But there was a silver lining.
"I got to know Ovi a lot better just hanging out with him being injured together," Arnott said. "It was kinda nice that way, but it would've been nicer to play, no question."
Barring a setback for either player, that won't be a problem down the stretch. And while the Caps thrived without both Arnott and Ovechkin, thanks to some solid goaltending and stingy defense, perhaps the time away from the rink helped them in an intangible way.
"He's kind of guy who has experience, who won Stanley Cup. To be around him, it's a good time for me. He pushed me hard to do what he thinks is gonna be better for my body," Ovechkin said. "He's a funny guy and it's nice to talk to him about everything - about hockey, about life, about some small stuff."
Now the talking can again extend to the ice on game nights, as the Caps become an even deeper and stronger team with Ovechkin and Arnott in the lineup for the final handful of regular-season games.
There was a glimpse of that in early March when Nicklas Backstrom was still in the lineup, and it was a tantalizing look at how good this team could be up front.
"We had a couple games when everybody was healthy and we were good," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "I thought every time we were on the ice, we were sending out a real tough matchup for the other team to get."
Defensemen Mike Green and Tom Poti remain out with seemingly no immediate end in sight for their injury issues. But with Dennis Wideman doing his best Green impression and the rest of the defensive corps boasting plenty of NHL experience, the Caps have patience not to rush them back.
Those guys getting back in time for the playoffs would be somewhat of a bonus at this point. Ovechkin and Arnott were necessities, so the Caps are more than thrilled to get both back for the stretch run.
"Two great, offensive goal scorers for us," defenseman Jeff Schultz said. "With them now as close to 100 percent as can be, it's gonna be a big plus for us."
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