WASHINGTON - The Capitals returned to practice Wednesday without Alex Ovechkin. According to head coach Bruce Boudreau, Ovechkin was given a ‘maintenance day' to nurse a few ‘bumps and bruises.'
"With two more games this week," Boudreau explained, "we just told him to take [the practice] off and get some stretching done."
Ovechkin skated a season-low 17:35 in Tuesday's 3-0 win over the Panthers, although his usual time on the power play was limited with Florida penalized just once all game.
"If we had seven power plays last night, I'm sure he would have had 22 or 23 minutes," Boudreau says.
"In those occasions, especially when we're into a matching lines situation, if you look at Brooks [Laich's] line, instead of getting 13 minutes they're getting 17 minutes, and so Alex's line's minutes are going down, but I think in the long run that's definitely beneficial to us."
Statistically speaking, Ovechkin has had stronger starts in each of his previous six seasons. His one goal and three points through the first five games of the year are career-lows, as are his 17 shots on goal.
Ovechkin was also singled out by Boudreau after the Caps' second win of the season - Oct. 10 over Tampa Bay - as one of his players who needed to step up his game.
"I think he's got a long way to go to get to where he needs to be and should be," Boudreau said after Ovechkin was a minus-2 in the Caps' 6-5 shootout win over the Lightning. "He's our No. 1 player, but he can be better, there's no doubt about it."
Boudreau denied Ovechkin nursing any sort of injury related to any number of slashes he took in the first two games of the year.
Despite Ovechkin's numbers, Washington is 5-0-0 for the first time in franchise history, with a quartet of games before the end of the month that should serve as another good measuring stick.
The Capitals will be in Philadelphia Thursday to face the 4-0-1 Flyers, with an early perch atop the Eastern Conference standings at stake.
The Caps then return home Saturday to face the 4-0-0 Detroit Red Wings, before traveling to Western Canada next week for games against the upstart Edmonton Oilers and the reigning Presidents' Trophy winners in Vancouver.
"It's going to be a great challenge," Boudreau says. "I'd rather play a minor league team, but it's going to be a great challenge. You want to see where you're at, at different stages in the season.
"Three of the next four games are against the elite in the league so we'll know whether we've got a lot more work to do or whether we're on the right track."
Catch the Capitals (5-0-0) and Flyers (4-0-1) Thursday night on WFED 1500AM and online at Federal News Radio. Coverage begins with Caps Pregame at 6:45.
(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All rights reserved.)
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