Ovechkin playing in Capitals season opener against Rangers

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WASHINGTON — Alex Ovechkin is playing for the Washington Capitals in their season opener against the New York Rangers at Capital One Arena on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; TNT) after being a game-time decision because of a lower-body injury.

The forward was a full participant in the morning skate, taking his usual spot at left wing in rushes on the top line with center Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson, and worked with the first power-play unit.

Ovechkin said he felt good and was going to talk the medical staff before a decision was made on whether he would play.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of injury, you always try to be safe, you know, especially I think if you don’t have to make a push to come back,” Ovechkin said. “Overall, we will see. We still have time to make a decision and we will see how I’m doing.”

Prior to participating in the Capitals’ optional practice Tuesday, Ovechkin was off the ice for three days after being injured hitting Philadelphia Flyers forward Travis Konecny in the first period of Washington’s preseason finale Friday. The 36-year-old has never missed a season-opening game.

“Obviously, it’s great to see him out there,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “There was full participation. Now we go back, and we check with the medical department and 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 NHL history with 730 goals, one from tying Marcel Dionne (731) for fifth. He’s 11 goals behind Brett Hull (741) for fourth, 36 behind Jaromir Jagr (766) for third, 71 behind Gordie Howe (801) for second and 164 behind Wayne Gretzky (894) for first. 

He signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract to remain with Washington on July 27.

“He’s a special player in a lot of different ways in his ability to just keep going and he’s a pro,” Wilson said. “He takes care of himself and he hates missing games. He wants to be out there chasing all the milestones, scoring goals and helping the team win. So for him, it obviously it has to be pretty serious to keep him out and he wants to play with us every night.”

Before missing an NHL career-high 11 games last season, including four while in NHL COVID-19 protocol and seven with a groin injury, Ovechkin hadn’t missed more than four games in season since he sat out 10 in 2009-10, and hadn’t missed any games because of injury since a lower-body injury kept him out of a 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild on March 5, 2015.

The Capitals will be without center Nicklas Backstrom for at least the first 10 games of the season after he was placed on long-term injured reserve Tuesday with a left hip injury. If Ovechkin can’t play Wednesday, it would be eighth time since Backstrom made his NHL debut in 2007 that both forwards sit out the same game. The most recent was May 8 against Philadelphia last season, when Ovechkin had a groin injury and Backstrom had a left hip injury.

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