About two and a half weeks ago, the Washington Capitals forged a 3-0 win over the New Jersey devils in their final game before the Olympic break. Five members of the Capitals departed the next day to represent their respective countries in the 2014 Sochi Games, and on Tuesday four of those five Caps Olympians returned to practice with their Washington teammates for the first time since the conclusion of the Games.
Marcus Johansson remains in Sweden where he is dealing with a visa/passport issue.
All four of the Caps’ other Olympians spoke with the media on Tuesday. The plights of Caps’ center Nicklas Backstrom and captain Alex Ovechkin and were particularly poignant.
Backstrom was all set to represent Sweden in the gold medal game on Sunday when he was pulled aside just hours before the opening face-off and told that he would not be able to participate because a urine sample taken the previous Wednesday had shown an unacceptable level of pseudoephedrine as a result of the Zyrtec D allergy medicine he has been taking for the last seven years.
Ovechkin’s host Russian team failed to medal, and immediately after his team was eliminated he learned that his father had been hospitalized and had undergone heart surgery in Sochi.
“It’s obviously been a couple of tough days,” says Backstrom. “You miss the Olympic final, it’s something you don’t want to do and maybe you don’t have that chance again in your career. It’s very sad and disappointing.”
“To be honest with you,” says Ovechkin, “I forget Olympics right away and went to the hospital where [my father] was. I just saw him and he was okay after surgery, and that was the most important thing for me. He is flying back to Moscow and he is going to have recovery there.”
The rest of the Caps felt for both of their teammates.
“They are part of our family; you want to pick them up, you want to be there for them,” says Caps left wing Jason Chimera. “Ovi had a lot of pressure in Russia, and with them not doing well you feel for him. And you feel for Backi not being able to be in that gold medal game. Just the emotions that they go through, we’re here for them and I think they know that. We’re on their side. We’re a team here. We’re as close to a family as possible. Outside of your own family, we’re together for long stretches. We’re always here for those guys.”
“We feel very sorry for Nick,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “Maybe the biggest game of his career and he wasn’t able to play. From our angle, [it’s] kind of a glitch in the system. It’s a shame for the athletes that take the medicine they’re allowed to [take]. Everybody’s body is a little different in terms of the time lapse, and it’s just a shame that it got to that point.”
Fellow Caps and Olympians Martin Erat and John Carlson were both happy to be home. Erat’s wife gave birth to a baby girl while the Caps’ forward was in Sochi.
“It’s been a lot of miles,” relates Erat in recalling his Olympic experience. “But the biggest thing came after the Olympics. For me, it’s my daughter. It was great to be there for a couple of days and see her. It’s probably the best thing that can happen.”
Carlson represented Team USA, which started the tournament like gangbusters only to be blanked in each of its last two games. The Americans did not medal in 2014 after earning silver in 2010.
“It’s great to be back,” admits Carlson. “You go away a while, and you miss home. I definitely started missing home. It was exciting, though. It’s not the result I wanted for me or my team, but it was definitely a good experience.”
The Capitals who didn’t go to Sochi have been back in the District and practicing together for nearly a week now.
“The Olympians didn’t have much of a break, but we’re ready to go,” says Chimera. “You’re used to being so busy and not being busy is nice for a couple of days, but then you get kind of stir crazy again.”
With 23 games remaining, the Capitals are tied with Columbus for fourth place in the NHL’s Metropolitan Division and tied for ninth in the Eastern Conference, one point shy of the conference’s final playoff berth.
“For us,” explains Caps right wing Joel Ward, “we’ve just got to find ways to collect points and win games. We’re all grown men in here. We know how to win games, we’ve just got to execute and do it.”
Washington faces a difficult schedule the rest of the way and two of its best players – Backstrom and Ovechkin – are dealing with post-Olympic trauma.
“I think they’re going to move forward fine,” says Oates. “They’re both professionals. What happened is very difficult, no question. Ovi’s country is the host country and [there were] huge expectations and their team didn’t play very well. And in a short window of time that can happen.
“Backi’s situation, it’s borderline unfair. It made it very difficult because it was the gold medal game and he’s a key player for their team. For him, it’s very difficult. But it’s our job to get him through it and get him to refocus on the Capitals for the rest of the year.”
A somewhat jet-lagged Ovechkin said his spirits were improved just being back around the boys in the room once again.
“To be honest with you,” begins the Caps’ captain, “when you wake up at four in the morning it’s kind of hard to realize what’s happening. But it’s nice to see the guys. It’s nice to see the atmosphere right now that we have in the locker room. Everybody is laughing and everybody has a good mood. We’re all rested; everybody’s rested. We’re going to make a push and we’re going to fight.”
Backstrom has as much inner toughness and fire as any player in the league, and he vowed to his teammates that his Olympic predicament will not become entangled with his main responsibilities as the Caps’ top pivot.
“I was talking to the guys today and I said I will deal with this on the side,” Backstrom declares. “I think we have a real important situation here in Washington right now. We’re not in a playoff spot and we’ve got to look forward to that. We have a game on Thursday and we’re trying to get ready as we usually are. I’m focusing on Washington right now, how we have to deal with this as a team, how we have to win hockey games.”