RALEIGH, NC — alex ovechkinThe text message to the Washington Capitals players’ group chat came while they were on the bus heading to practice at Carter-Finley Stadium on Friday.
“I love you guys. I miss you,” Ovechkin’s text read, according to the Capitals forward. tom wilson.
Under happier circumstances, Ovechkin would have been in the middle of all the fun during outdoor practice and family skating before playing the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2023 Navy Federal Credit Union NHL Stadium Series on Saturday ( 8 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN+, SN360, TVAS2). But the 37-year-old striker is home in Russia after the death of his father, Mikhail, on Wednesday.
Although his captain is on the other side of the world, he remains in the minds of his companions. They would like nothing more than to get a win for him under the bright lights of the Stadium Series.
“He wants to be here more than anyone, but he needs to be there for his family,” said Wilson, nearing his return from a lower-body injury that has sidelined him since Jan. 24. “It’s really tough. It’s a sad moment, but we’re rooting for him and doing everything we can to get a win. I think that’s all we can do for now and I think I’d be happy if we can do it.”
The Capitals have lost both games since Ovechkin went on personal leave and have lost three in a row overall. They are one point behind the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders for a wild card into the Eastern Conference Stanley Cup Playoffs. That adds to the stakes for them in the Stadium Series.
But finding a way to win without Ovechkin hasn’t been easy. Washington is 0-3-0 without him this season, including a 6-2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Jan. 21 when he was sidelined with a lower-body injury. Second in NHL history with 812 goals, Ovechkin leads the Capitals with 32 goals in 54 games this season.
“Listen, those are big skates, big shoes to fill and all the guys are going to have to chip in and do a little bit more,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “There’s no question we’d love to have Alex here. He’s an important part of our team, an important team for success, but we still have to keep going and win games to move our organization forward.” We went up in the standings and we have to win for Alex, because he’s not here. So, I think the guys know that.”
As much as the Capitals miss Ovechkin’s goals and everything else he does on the ice, they miss his leadership off the ice. His smile and his larger-than-life personality have filled his locker room for 18 seasons, and removing him leaves a huge void.
“I have an idea, unfortunately, of what’s going on and it’s not easy, especially when it’s happening all over the world,” the Washington forward said. T.J. Oshiewhose father, Tim, died in 2021. “So, we’re thinking of him every day… Our hearts are broken for him, but we’re absolutely here 100 percent for any support he or his family needs. In times like this , even in interviews or on the big stage under the bright lights, that’s where the big No. 8 always shines, so we miss him and think of him and wish he was here, but we’re glad he can be with his family in this Difficult moment”.
Ovechkin planned to have his sons, Sergei, 4, and Ilya, 2, with him on the family skate on Friday. He helped the Capitals win each of their previous three outdoor games with three points (two goals, one assist). Washington defeated the Penguins 3-1 in the 2011 NHL Winter Classic in Pittsburgh; defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 in the 2015 Winter Classic in Washington; and defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-2 in the 2018 Stadium Series in Annapolis, Maryland.
“You miss him like crazy on things like this,” Wilson said. “He’s such a fun guy to be around. He’s the perfect guy to market the game of hockey and big events like this on the biggest stage. These are his types of events and it’s weird not having him around. He’s a great leader for us .”
The Capitals lost 3-2 to the Hurricanes on Tuesday and 6-3 to the Florida Panthers on Thursday without Ovechkin, so they know they’ll have to play better to get a better result against the Hurricanes on Saturday.
“We should win for him, for his family, sure,” he defended. Dmitry Orlov saying. “It’s a big reason. We can’t just play like [the past two games]. Stinks. It doesn’t help anyone, neither him nor us as a group. So, we have to bring everything tomorrow, get these two points and then go from there.”