- The Washington Times - Monday, January 23, 2012

It wasn’t a penalty Sunday afternoon, but Alex Ovechkin is paying significantly for his hit on Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek.

The NHL on Monday suspended the Washington Capitals‘ captain three games for leaving his feet and hitting Michalek. He will forfeit $154,677.75 in salary and be eligible to return to game action Feb. 4 at the Montreal Canadiens.

This is the third and longest suspension of Ovechkin’s career. He got two games for a knee-on-knee hit against Carolina’s Tim Gleason in late 2009 and two for a hit on Chicago’s Brian Campbell in March 2010.

While Ovechkin is eligible to participate in Sunday’s NHL All-Star Game, it is unclear if he still will participate. A team spokesman declined comment Monday night.

In announcing the three-game ban, NHL vice president of player safety Brendan Shanahan made it clear that despite no minor penalty being assessed on the play, what Ovechkin did was charging.

“As the video shows, Ovechkin has Michalek lined up for what could and should be a clean and hard body check,” Shanahan said. “However, he launches himself to deliver the hit on Michalek.”

Ovechkin first hit Michalek’s shoulder, but that the head was not the principal point of contact was negated by the superstar leaving his feet.

“While we accept Ovechkin’s assertion that he did not intend to hit Michalek in the head, the moment Ovechkin launches himself in the air prior to the hit, he becomes responsible for any contact to the head,” Shanahan said.

Earlier in the day, Ovechkin declined comment before his hearing with Shanahan, as did coach Dale Hunter.

“Yeah it’s too bad,” veteran right wing Mike Knuble said. “He comes in heavy, and if you’re in a funny position it looks pretty bad. I guess you can say that he rose up a bit that he left his feet a little, but it’s hard to say. You don’t want to see your top player having a hearing and possibly being suspended for a big game the next day.”

The Caps’ top line against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday is expected to feature Mathieu Perreault between Marcus Johansson and Alexander Semin.

Backstrom skates

It might have only been five minutes, wearing red sweatpants, a sweatshirt and a hat, but Nicklas Backstrom skating represented progress. The Caps’ concussed leading scorer was on the ice at the team’s practice facility for a light skate Monday morning, stick-handling and going half-speed but not shooting much.

He had not skated since Jan. 6 in San Jose and has missed nine games.

“Yeah, he skated. So that’s good,” Hunter said. “He’s back on the ice, and we’ll go from there.”

The plan is for Backstrom to stay in town over the All-Star break and work with trainer Greg Smith.

“He’s coming,” Hunter said. “It’s a process.”

Kundratek to Hershey

Tomas Kundratek walked out of Ballston Common Mall with a red Caps equipment bag and a handful of sticks. That’s the universal sign of a player being sent to the minors, which is what the Capitals did to the 21-year-old defenseman Monday.

Kundratek was assigned to Hershey (AHL) after a five-game NHL cameo in which he played limited minutes and had no points.

With Kundratek out, Washington’s lineup against Boston figures to again include big defenseman John Erskine.

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