- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2012

Most players saw it. Alex Ovechkin and Mike Knuble skating toward each other before colliding at full speed just a few minutes into Thursday’s practice. It didn’t take long for the rest of the Washington Capitals to realize what was going on.

“I didn’t see it; I just heard it,” forward Keith Aucoin said. “It didn’t sound very good.”

The collision left Ovechkin face-down on the ice for two minutes where he was attended to by assistant trainer Ben Reese. After skating to the bench doubled over, the captain sat there for a few more minutes with his head down or in his hands before leaving for the locker room appearing dazed.

But coach Dale Hunter insisted Ovechkin was “fine” and “good” and that he would play Friday night at the Winnipeg Jets. A line of questions about the star left wing’s head led Hunter to give a different explanation.

“You’re talking about his head, you mean? It wasn’t his head,” the coach said. “Just a big collision. It knocks the wind out of you. When you lose your wind, that’s not fun.”

Ovechkin did not speak to reporters, though teammates’ reactions to the collision and possibility of playing without him filled the spectrum.

“How do I react? Probably holy [expletive],” forward Jeff Halpern said. “It was a big collision.”

Defenseman Karl Alzner said Ovechkin was just on the wrong side of the ice during the drill.

“As we were explaining the drill, we said, get your head up, make sure you stay on your side of the ice. And that’s what happened. He was just on the wrong side of the ice,” Alzner said. “If you start on the left side, you’re supposed to stay on the left side. I, myself, went on the right side one time. You just kind of forget. But it happens. I’ve seen it happen a lot of times before. Those are two big boys hitting each other, so it makes a loud bang.”

A bang heard around the NHL if Ovechkin misses any kind of time. Even in a disappointing year (29 goals, 53 points), he has points in three of the past four games (three goals, one assist) and has recently shown a fire in his game that was missing for a while.

The Capitalsare 1-2-1 this season without him.

“It would be terrible. He’s been playing good for us,” Alzner said. “You can just tell his spirits are up; he’s been having a good time and you can tell he’s feeling the end of the year and playoff hockey and everything. It would hurt quite a bit, but I’m hoping that he’s OK.”

Knuble is hoping that, too. The 39-year-old veteran who missed 12 games in 2007 after a collision in a game with Brendan Shanahan said usually it’s a race to see who gets up sooner.

“I see him at the last second. I don’t know if he saw me. That’s a lot of beef coming together there, kind of full speed,” Knuble said. “When people don’t see each other, it gets pretty dangerous sometimes,”

That’s 459 pounds of hockey player, to be more specific. And it left Ovechkin looking much less than 100 percent.

Knuble felt bad for the accident but mostly was kicking himself for the whole thing even happening.

“There’s the whole ice there and we can’t run into each other. It’s just stupid,” he said. “Just more annoying than anything that he just did that. And that just happens. Embarrassing that somebody gets hurt. Just stupid.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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