The league’s reigning two-time MVP was suspended for two games without pay by the NHL on Tuesday for a knee-to-knee hit on defenseman Tim Gleason in Monday night’s 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.
Ovechkin’s first NHL suspension will cost him $98,844.16 in salary. He’ll sit out Thursday against Florida and Saturday at Philadelphia, although his sore knee might have kept him out of one of the games anyway.
“I regret that this has happened,” Ovechkin said in a statement released by the team. “I’m glad that Tim wasn’t injured because I never ever want to see anyone get hurt.”
The initial concern was Ovechkin would be sidelined longer — with a serious knee injury. The hit on Gleason was scary, but the Russian forward was back on the ice Tuesday morning in a red Capitals track suit about 25 minutes before the start of practice. He skated for less than five minutes but did not move at full speed. The Capitals said he was day to day with a sore knee.
“It’s not a bad injury,” Ovechkin said. “I thought it was going to be worse, but thank God I can walk, I can skate. Of course, it’s a little bit sore, but it’s not that serious.”
Ovechkin was given a 5-minute major penalty for kneeing and a game misconduct for the hit on Gleason, the second time in three games he’s been ejected. Last week he was whistled for a 5-minute boarding major and game misconduct for a hit on Patrick Kaleta of the Buffalo Sabres.
Before hearing of the suspension, Ovechkin tried to plead his case. He said he didn’t have time to pull back when Gleason changed directions while attempting to push the puck out of the Hurricanes’ zone.
“I can do nothing about it,” Ovechkin said. “It’s just a moment of the game. I turned and realize I don’t have time to stop.”
Ovechkin was more defiant when asked about his style of play. No one scores goals better, but he also loves to hit. He leads the Capitals with 18 goals, 30 points — and 44 penalty minutes. He missed six games earlier this season with an upper body injury, the first time in his career he’s had an injury that cost him more than one game.
“I just play my game and I just enjoy my time and I enjoy my life,” Ovechkin said. “It’s me, and it is what it is.”
“I play risky,” he said. “I won’t try and hit and make some people get hurt, but people sometimes turn right away and I don’t have time to realize and stop. What can you do? You can do nothing.”
Coach Bruce Boudreau isn’t so sure anymore. After two years of essentially letting Ovechkin be Ovechkin, Boudreau said it might be time for a heart-to-heart talk.
“He’s pretty reckless,” he said. “It’s hard telling a guy that scores 60 goals a year to change the way he plays. At the same time, I don’t want to see him getting hurt. Maybe he has to pick his spots a little better. The open-ice hits, you just look around the league. It’s not only the hitter, it’s the guy that gets hit. … It’s something that will have to be addressed by us, I guess. … Not only as a coach, but as somebody who admires him, I just don’t want him to put himself in harm’s way, so we’ll see.”
Boudreau said Ovechkin isn’t trying to play dirty.
“Alex plays hard,” Boudreau said. “All the time. I don’t think there’s a malicious bone of him trying to hurt anybody. He just plays hard and he plays to win every shift. And it’s a really fine line between taking that away from him, and I don’t see how you can take it away other than talking to him and saying, ‘We don’t want to put you in that situation any more.’ But when he gets out there, he just wants to win so badly he does whatever we can for that team to succeed.”