Ovechkin could play for Capitals in season opener against Rangers

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ARLINGTON, Va. — Alex Ovechkin participated in the Washington Capitals’ optional practice Tuesday and could play in their season opener against the New York Rangers at Capital One Arena on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; TNT).

The forward skated for the first time since he sustained a lower-body injury in Washington’s preseason finale against the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday.

“That’s a good sign,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “We’ll get an update and an evaluation once he gets off the ice. Certainly a positive sign that he’s out there. We’ll do what’s best for the player and make sure that they’re healthy and we won’t put them in any situations where they might be jeopardized out there.

“But obviously it’s great to see him out there.”

Ovechkin skated for about 25 minutes, including two brief breaks to return the locker room. The 36-year-old finished by taking a series of one-timers from the left circle. Laviolette spoke while Ovechkin was on the ice, but left the door open for him to play against the Rangers.

“Anything’s possible,” Laviolette said. “I’ve got to see where he’s at.”

Ovechkin led the Capitals with 24 goals in 45 games last season and enters his 17th NHL season sixth in League history with 730 goals, one behind Marcel Dionne (731) for fifth, 11 behind Brett Hull (741) for fourth, 36 behind Jaromir Jagr (766) for third, 71 behind Gordie Howe for second and 164 behind Wayne Gretzky for first.

Ovechkin signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract ($9.5 million average annual value) to remain with Washington on July 27.

Before missing an NHL career-high 11 games last season, including four in NHL COVID-19 protocol and seven because of a groin injury, Ovechkin hadn’t missed more than four games since he was out for 10 in 2009-10.

“I would not be surprised if he’s back for Game One,” center Lars Eller said. “For some reason, he never seems to be out for long, whatever he’s been dealing with. I know he really wants to [play opening night]. He does not like to miss games … he does not want to take the game off. He wants to play. So if there’s any chance he can, he’ll be out there and I hope he will be.”

The Capitals will begin the season without center Nicklas Backstrom, who was placed on long-term injured reserve Tuesday because of a left hip injury. Backstrom will be required to miss at least the first 10 games but took a positive step in his recovery by skating lightly for about 20 minutes before Washington’s practice.

It was Backstrom’s first time skating since last season.

“Part of a progression for him,” Laviolette said. “It’s what we talk about. That obviously was more of a long-term thing the whole way, where Alex is day to day and Nick was week to week and you hadn’t seen him out here, and so the fact that he got out there and just got on his edges a little bit, I think that’s a positive.

“He’s trained. He’s working hard back here with the therapist to continue to improve on a daily basis. Just to get him out on the ice today and get on his edges is a positive thing.”

With Backstrom unavailable, 19-year-old rookie Hendrix Lapierre is expected to make his NHL debut centering the third line, with Conor Sheary and T.J. Oshie on the wings. Rookie Connor McMichael practiced in Ovechkin’s spot at left wing on the top line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson on Sunday and Monday.

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