- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2008

There was a vibrant mood in the Washington Capitals’ dressing room Monday - and part of that stemmed from a new arrival.

“I met him before practice,” center David Steckel joked. “I don’t know anything about the kid, but I hear he’s a good player.”

“The kid” is Alex Ovechkin, the NHL’s reigning MVP, who missed the team’s past two games to be in Russia with his ill grandfather, Nikolay Kabayev. On Sunday, Ovechkin returned from Moscow; on Monday morning, he was back on the ice.

“He definitely gives us a boost, and he’s just a great guy,” Steckel said. “He comes in with a smile every day and is an upbeat person, so he makes everyone around him upbeat.”

Added coach Bruce Boudreau: “It is like your big brother is back, and you’re happy to see him. And you’re happy to see him smiling again.”

Ovechkin’s father, Mikhail, told him during the team meal before the Oct. 25 game against Dallas that Kabayev, 83, had been taken to the intensive care unit of a Moscow hospital. After playing that night, Ovechkin called general manager George McPhee the next day and asked for permission to leave.

“My mind was in Moscow. I had to call George and ask to go back to Russia to see my grandpa because you never know when he could die,” Ovechkin said. “I give thanks to the Capitals. … It helped me a lot.”

Ovechkin said his grandfather had an operation eight years ago and the doctor said he probably had only two years to live. Kabayev was a central figure in Ovechkin’s childhood, living in Ovechkin’s home and helping raise him when his parents were away.

There was an erroneous report on a Russian Web site that Kabayev had passed away.

“Can you imagine the situation?” Ovechkin said. “I go home and see him on this day, and my friends call me and say, ‘Oh, Ovie, I’m so sorry that your grandpa died.’”

In Russia, Ovechkin tried to stick to his normal routine, so he slept during the day. He practiced with players from the Dynamo hockey system a few times and met with Dmitry Kapitonov, his personal trainer during the summer.

“I feel good, and I feel bad,” Ovechkin said. “I feel good [that] I saw my grandpa, but I feel bad that I can’t play and couldn’t help my teammates win the game.”

During his trip, Ovechkin attended a Kontinental Hockey League contest between powers Kazan and Dynamo. He didn’t get to see the whole game, though.

“It was 1-1 after second period, and some fans set off [flares],” Ovechkin said. “It was very flashy, then the smoke was all over the place. Of course you can’t play when there is smoke. Everybody was mad because it was two good teams. It was a strange situation.”

Notes - Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn returned to practice after missing Sunday’s workout. He went to a hospital Saturday night in Buffalo after taking a shot off an unpadded area of his upper torso, but the CT scan was negative. Morrisonn said he coughed up some blood but will be ready to play Tuesday against Ottawa. …

Fellow defenseman John Erskine (calf) was excused from practice. Sergei Fedorov filled in on defense, but Boudreau said Erskine could play Tuesday.

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