Alex Ovechkin was back on the ice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Wednesday morning, and it gave the Capitals' training camp a noticeable jolt.
That’s not to say that the first five days lacked enthusiasm. It’s just that Ovechkin’s mere presence always seems to turn the energy level up a notch or two.
“That’s for sure,” associate coach Todd Reirden said. “As coaches we’re happy to have him back. As much as we want him to have success in international competition, we always love to have him back wearing our jersey.”
A larger-than-usual weekday crowd at the team's facility greeted the Capitals’ captain as he made his way from the dressing room. Just before he stepped onto the ice, one fan yelled, “Welcome back Ovi.”
Once practice began, he did not disappoint.
“I thought he had a real strong practice today,” Reirden said. “A lot of energy. Really upbeat. We have a young Russian player [Dmitriy Zaitsev] and he went out of his way to help this guy out. I thought he had a real strong day today.”
Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov traveled back from Toronto on Sunday, the day after Team Russia was eliminated by Canada in the World Cup of Hockey semifinals. The trio took Monday and Tuesday off to recover from a couple of weeks of intense hockey on the international stage.
Although Wednesday’s practice mostly consisted of drills rather than game-like situations, Ovechkin liked how sharp his game felt, despite three days away from the rink.
“I think the puck control, it’s much better than most of the guys because you’ve already been in this position and you already was in games,” he said, referring to the seven World Cup contests he played for Russia (including three pre-tournament exhibitions).
Ovechkin skated on a line with Kuznetsov and newcomer Brett Connolly. Orlov, meanwhile, was paired with veteran defenseman Matt Niskanen.
“Maybe tomorrow it might be something different,” Reirden said of putting Orlov and Niskanen together. “But we’re trying some different stuff. We need to see some game action from them together.”
It’s far too early to put much stock in who is skating with whom. It is, after all, just the first week of camp. But with six of the Capitals’ nine World Cup participants now back in the fold — and Nicklas Backstrom set to return Thursday — things are starting to look and feel a little more normal.
“Yeah the energy was helped, just with the way we were able to disperse all of the World Cup guys” into different groups, Reirden said. “That was important, and I think it was something that was needed” after a late night return from Montreal.
MORE CAPITALS: TOM WILSON EXPECTED TO RETURN THIS WEEK
Capitals winger Tom Wilson was given a maintenance day Wednesday but is expected to return to the ice this week.
Wilson suffered an upper body injury in the second period of Monday’s preseason opening loss to the Hurricanes. He did not play in the third period of that game and also sat out Tuesday’s practice as a precaution.
Wilson could return as soon as Thursday’s intrasquad scrimmage, a team spokesman said.
The Capitals will get their first day off Friday and then travel to Bridgeport, Conn., on Saturday to face the Islanders in preseason game No. 3.