Alex Ovechkin could rejoin his Washington Capitals teammates on the ice for Phase 2 of the NHL Return to Play Plan in the near future, coach Todd Reirden said Monday.
Ovechkin initially remained in the Washington area after the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, but he moved his family to a house in Florida prior to the birth of his second son, Ilya, on May 27. The Capitals captain has been skating at a rink in Pembroke Pines, Florida, with a group of players that includes several fellow Russians, including New York Rangers rookie goalie Igor Shesterkin, Colorado Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov and Florida Panthers forward Evgenii Dadonov.
“I think he’s primed and going be ready for when that time does come that we’re able to get back officially up and running,” Reirden said. “He’d be maybe someone that we’re seeing here in the next little while depending upon how things play out here with health and just with the plans of the NHL.”
Ovechkin, who tied David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins for the NHL lead with 48 goals during the regular season, has also benefited from being able to work out with his personal trainer, Pavel Burlachenko, who arrived from Russia shortly before the season was paused.
“He sounds really good and excited to get back up and going and likes the chances our team has and knows it’s going to be very unpredictable, obviously,” Reirden said. “First time for anyone in the NHL going through something like this. He’s in a really good spot mentally and physically, and I think really we’re fortunate that his trainer, who I think a lot of, Pavel, is able to be spending this entire time with him.”
The Capitals, who will play the Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers in Eastern Conference round-robin play of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, have had four players participating in Phase 2 workouts at their practice facility in Arlington, Virginia, since June 11: goalie Braden Holtby, defenseman John Carlson and forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov and Lars Eller.
Reirden said goaltending coach Scott Murray and assistant Blaine Forsythe will join them on the ice beginning Thursday, and more Capitals players, including potentially Ovechkin, are expected to return to the area and begin skating at the team facility within the next week or two.
The NHL has said that Phase 3, training camps, will begin July 10. A date for Phase 4, which would be the start of eight best-of-5 qualifier series and the round-robin among the top four teams in each conference, has not been determined.
Although training camp will be almost like starting from scratch for the Capitals following a four-month break since their last regular-season game March 9, that opportunity for a reset might turn out to be a good thing. Washington was 26-6-5 and led the NHL with 57 points through Dec. 22 but went 15-14-3 after that, including 5-7-3 in its final 15 games.
“I felt like we were coming out of it in the last few games and obviously we weren’t perfect at that point, but I did like the direction that our team was headed and what we were going to be able to do once we clicked on all cylinders,” Reirden said. “Certainly, the start of the season and training camp will be a point of reference for us because of how we got out of training camp and started that year. I really liked a lot of the things our team showed and how we played, and that will be key for us to get back to that as soon as possible once we get back up and running in that Phase 3 and Phase 4.”
There will be a lot to be determined during training camp, including a goaltending plan. Reirden said Holtby and rookie goalie Ilya Samsonov each will play during the round-robin to get prepared for the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but Holtby will remain the No. 1.
Although Samsonov, who went 16-6-2 with a 2.55 goals-against average and .913 save percentage, had better numbers than Holtby (25-14-6, 3.11 GAA, .897 save percentage) during the regular season, he faded down the stretch, going 0-4-1 with a 4.34 GAA and .869 save percentage in his last five starts.
Holtby went 5-3-2 with a 2.75 GAA and .911 save percentage in his final 11 games, and he has the advantage of his experience helping the Capitals win the Cup in 2018.
“I think going into it, it’s Braden Holtby’s job to lose and I feel confident in him,” Reirden said. “I felt confident with where things were going right before the pause in terms of how his game was coming around, and I think he’ll get the first crack at it.”