- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 31, 2019

ARLINGTON — Their break is over, and the Washington Capitals now pick up where they left off eight days ago: trying to solve a seven-game losing streak.

Alex Ovechkin skipped the NHL All-Star Game in order to rest his body as much as possible, and he got his wish. He vacationed with his family in Cuba, where his wife used Instagram to document him riding a dolphin and dancing under some palm trees.

Now, though, it’s back to business.

Ovechkin will serve an automatic one-game suspension on Friday when the Capitals host the Calgary Flames, in accordance with the NHL’s rule about skipping the All-Star Game. In the meantime, the captain gave his opinion on what Washington’s problem might have been in mid-January.

“I think we was tired,” Ovechkin said. “Maybe it was too much hockey. And today I look at the guys and I can see everybody is missing the hockey and everybody flying, everybody laughing. Everybody don’t think about what happened a week ago or how many games we lose in a row.

“I’m pretty sure we’ll be fine in the next few days.”

Ovechkin’s teammates still walked the fine line between pointing out the grueling pre-break schedule and leaning too much on that as the reason for losing seven in a row.

“It was a good, long break and allows you to put that in the rear view a little bit,” Tom Wilson said. “But I think everyone in here is aware that the points are important, you know? It’s a tight race, and we’ve got to use this homestand to get our game going and do the right things.”

Braden Holtby insisted that they can’t use fatigue as an excuse.

“Rest can always be used in the right way,” Holtby said. “But in saying that, every team has this break. Every team was on the same boat before … I think for us, the biggest thing was to get away from everything mentally.”

Coach Todd Reirden said he expects Friday to be “more of a sloppy game” than usual as players get back into the daily grind of hockey. That will be compounded by Ovechkin’s single-game absence.

Reirden had Chandler Stephenson skate in Ovechkin’s top-line left wing spot for much of Thursday’s practice, keeping the second line of Jakub Vrana, Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson intact, which likely portends how they will line up Friday.

Planning for one game without Ovechkin does not have his teammates feeling intimidated.

“We have lots of really skilled players in this team, lots of skilled players,” Vrana said. “I think we will find a way to win the game without him tomorrow, and then we’ll have him back.”

Nonetheless, it will be a tall order to defeat the Flames (33-13-5, 71 points), the best team in the Western Conference, who are led by three of the NHL’s top 20 goal-scorers: Johnny Gaudreau (29), Sean Monahan (27) and Matthew Tkachuk (24).

Defenseman Christian Djoos won’t play in this game, but he was a full participant in practice Thursday, a positive step for his return to action. Djoos has missed the last 20 games with a left thigh injury that required a surgical procedure.

Djoos said he got in some skating during the Capitals‘ bye week — a quite different way to spend that time than, say, Ovechkin.

“No (vacation). Not this year,” Djoos said.

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