- The Washington Times - Friday, February 3, 2012

In their first nine games without Nicklas Backstrom, the Washington Capitals picked up nine points. Not a pace good enough to win the Southeast Division if it continued, but not too bad without a leading scorer and MVP.

In the past three games without Backstrom and without the suspended Alex Ovechkin, the Caps picked up three points. It’s the same pace, but it doesn’t mean they don’t miss their captain.

“You always could use him on the ice,” coach Dale Hunter said. “He got three games to watch the hockey and stuff. You’re always dying to get back in there again.”

Ovechkin is indeed dying to play again.

“It’s a situation when you missed a game, and I’m tired of practicing,” he said.

The Caps will be happy to have their captain back, starting Saturday afternoon at the Montreal Canadiens. Ovechkin has four goals and six assists in 11 regular-season games at Bell Centre.

“He loves playing in Montreal,” Caps general manager George McPhee said recently. “He loves the city, he loves the fans up there and I think they enjoy watching him play, and he’s looking forward to that game.”

And to obviously stop taking part in scratches’ skates instead of games. But there might be an advantage to Ovechkin going 13 days between games. That includes the All-Star break and the game that he skipped prior to it. Time off might do a body good.

“Yeah, I think you don’t have to wake up at 9 a.m. or 8:30 to go to a practice,” he said. “You just to sleep until 11, until 12. Just take some lunch, go to the sun, enjoy the weather.”

But life without Ovechkin isn’t too sunny offensively. He’ll essentially replace Jay Beagle or Joel Rechlicz on the roster and go right back on the power play and eat up likely 18 to 20 minutes.

With Washington hard up for goals lately, this return couldn’t come soon enough.

“We have another goal scorer on our team and another good player,” forward Marcus Johansson said. “It’s obviously a really good thing for the team to have him. It’s just another very good weapon to have.”

Part of Ovechkin as a weapon is his ability to hit. After a three-game suspension for leaving his feet and charging Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek, the question is again there about whether the star will pull back.

“I don’t know if it’s going to change my game or not,” Ovechkin said. “It’s a hockey game, it’s a physical game. I’m gonna do my best to help this team take some points and make some hits, score some goals.”

Brooks Laich insisted he didn’t think Ovechkin was a “dirty player” and believes he shouldn’t and won’t change.

“Ovi is Ovi. Nature vs. nurture, nature’s going to win,” Laich said. “He’s a competitor. He’s a fierce competitor on the ice that guys don’t want to play against. You can’t take the physical nature out of that guy.”

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