Every day, almost without fail, Alex Ovechkin is getting pulled aside by a reporter or camera crew wanting to know how he feels about returning to Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Every other night, at least from now until Feb. 9, Ovechkin will be playing hockey games for the Washington Capitals, a total of 11 games in the next 21 nights.
It’s enough to cause concern for his coach, Adam Oates, who has seen Ovechkin's goal totals dip from 30 in his first 34 games to four in his last 12.
“Sure, of course,” Oates said. “As the moment gets closer I’m sure there’s going to be more anxiety for him.
“He’s done a great job trying to focus on us, yet every other day there’s an interview for him for the Olympics. He’s a guy that has to take care of himself better than anybody right now because he’s going to have the most stress on him.”
Maybe playing with a few familiar faces will help.
For Saturday’s practice in Columbus, Oates reunited his top line, putting Ovechkin with center Nicklas Backstrom and left wing Marcus Johansson. Mikhail Grabovski centered a second line with left wing Jason Chimer and right wing Troy Brouwer, and Brooks Laich centered a third line with Marty Erat on the left and Joel Ward on the right.
The Caps’ forth line had Jay Beagle between Aaron Volpatti on the left and Tom Wilson and Eric Fehr on the right.
It marked the first time all season that Chimera and Ward were separated.
Assuming Oates sticks with those line combination against the Rangers in New York on Sunday, Fehr or Wilson could be a healthy scratch in Manhattan.
Wilson took a retaliatory roughing penalty that negated a Caps power play early in their 5-1 loss in Columbus on Friday, while Fehr has been a minus-4 in his last three games.
Oates must also decide on a goaltender for Sunday. Does he turn to rookie Philipp Grubauer who beat the Rangers 4-1 at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 8 but was pulled on Friday after allowing three goals on 14 shots in Columbus?
Or will Braden Holtby get the call after stopping 20 of 22 shots in Ohio’s capital?
Regardless of who gets the call, Oates said his team needs to get the rest it needs as they prepare for the final three weeks before the 18-day Olympic break.
“Rest is huge for us right now,” Oates said. “The schedule is tough [now] and the schedule is tough when we get back. [15 games in March]. That’s a lot of grind on the guys. There’s no easy games.”