Alex Ovechkin fires a shot on Cam Ward.
Sure, he said it felt a bit weird to be back on the ice following Tuesday night 3-2 shootout loss to Carolina. But Alex Ovechkin didn't seem to be out of sorts in a major way following his three-game hiatus to nurse an injury.
If there was any question if Ovechkin would return to form quickly, he put those rumors to rest early.
Like on his very first shift.
Ovechkin danced down the slot and fired a backhander on net, which ultimately led to a grand scoring chance for Mike Knuble. Ovechkin then finished the shift with a big hit in the corner.
Yep, a sure sign that Ovi was back.
Although he didn't score in the Caps' 3-2 shootout loss, he was his usual dominating force. The scoresheet showed he registered five shots on net, had four others blocked and missed the net on four other chances in just over 19 minutes of ice time.
He also added five hits, which tied him for the team lead. Many of those were on Finnish superpest Tuomo Ruutu.
The two battled playoff-style most of the night, trading slashes and checks along the boards and probably yelling at each other in languages the other didn't understand, too.
In one particularly heated exchange, Ovechkin took a run at Ruutu after a whistle following a hard hit by Ruutu on Dennis Wideman that left the Caps' defenseman with what looked like an injured right leg. Surprisingly, however, Ovi got the worst of his attempt at revenge, as Ruutu knocked him on his backside.
After that, Ovi seemed set to make Ruutu pay. He leveled him with several crushing hits along the boards and made him look silly with some sick stickhandling in the third period and overtime. He would dangle the puck between Ruutu's legs and come out on the other side with prime scoring opportunities. Aww, that's just not fair...
But perhaps Ovi's did rust show from his layoff, as he failed to put a puck past Cam Ward in regulation, OT and even the shootout.
Coach Bruce Boudreau said Ovechkin's timing was off on this night.
"He had a lot of energy, he had a lot of hits," Boudreau said. "You can tell that sometimes the timing was off."
Ovechkin said he felt "nervous," during the game, but then backtracked as he searched for the right word.
"When you don't play, you feel a little bit nervous -- not nervous -- but you didn't feel the puck," he tried to explain after the game. "You skated hard in practice, but the game is different."
And as for Ruutu, well, he had the last laugh, icing the win with a shootout tally on Semyon Varlamov.
"It’s fun. It’s a physical game," Ruutu said afterward of his battles with Ovechkin. "There’s a lot of emotion. You give and you take. And I think the fans loved it."
The Verizon Center Red would beg to differ. But the fans have to be happy that Ovi and Jason Arnott were back on the ice after healing their wounds.
So is Ovechkin.
"I'm glad I'm back."
(Thanks to Puck Daddy Greg Wyshynski for the extraordinary Ruutu postgame quote.)