Risk and re­ward

NHL teams have a bal­anc­ing act with in­jured all-stars

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - SPORTS - BY STEPHEN WHYNO

A one-game, slap-on-the-wrist sus­pen­sion isn’t enough to stop NHL teams from keep­ing their banged-up play­ers out of All­Star week­end.

The league said Thurs­day Chicago cap­tain Jonathan Toews won’t par­tic­i­pate in All­Star fes­tiv­i­ties in Nashville af­ter he left a game this week with an ill­ness. That came one day af­ter the Cap­i­tals’ Alex Ovechkin pulled out of All-Star week­end with a lower-body in­jury the team said had been both­er­ing him since Novem­ber.

Ovechkin and Toews by rule are sus­pended for the first game af­ter the All-Star break, the same pun­ish­ment the Pitts­burgh Pen­guins ac­cepted last year with Sid­ney Crosby.

The NHL’s rule was first used in 2009 against Detroit Red Wings stars Nick­las Lid­strom and Pavel Dat­syuk, and now it has been levied against five of the league’s top play­ers.

More teams are opt­ing to play it safe.

“We had to make a con­scious de­ci­sion on that,” Wash­ing­ton coach Barry Trotz said. “That’s the rules. You’ve seen other teams make that de­ci­sion. I was out West, and Detroit’s made that de­ci­sion a few times. The ul­ti­mate goal for us is to go deeper than we did last year, so some­times you have to make those de­ci­sions. We made it. And we’ll just deal with it.”

Ovechkin and Toews have each ap­peared at a hand­ful of All-Star Games, and the price of miss­ing a Feb. 2 game is in­signif­i­cant com­pared with po­ten­tial long-term ram­i­fi­ca­tions. Black­hawks physi­cian Michael Terry said Toews left Chicago’s game Tues­day with an ill­ness and was symp­to­matic again Thurs­day, so he be­lieves “rest over the break is most im­por­tant for him to prop­erly re­cover and be fully healthy head­ing into the rest of the reg­u­lar sea­son.”

The Cap­i­tals are atop the NHL stand­ings as the best team in the East­ern Con­fer­ence, and the de­fend­ing Stan­ley Cup-cham­pion Black­hawks are the best in the West at the break.

Wash­ing­ton will still have three All-Stars, as fel­low Rus­sian Evgeny Kuznetsov will re­place Ovechkin and join cen­tre Nick­las Back­strom and goal­tender Braden Holtby in Nashville. The host Preda­tors now have four rep­re­sen­ta­tives, since Toews’ re­place­ment is winger James Neal. He joins Nashville de­fence­men Shea We­ber and Ro­man Josi and goalie Pekka Rinne.

New York Is­lan­ders cen­tre John Tavares re­places Ovechkin as cap­tain of the Metropoli­tan Divi­sion for the league’s new 3on-3 tour­na­ment for­mat. Play­ing 3-on-3 for 20-minute pe­ri­ods is some­thing Trotz ex­pressed con­cern over ear­lier in the week.

Ovechkin said he hasn’t been healthy for a cou­ple of months. As much as he en­joys All-Star week­end, he said he was OK with the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s de­ci­sion to hold him out.

“This was a hard de­ci­sion, but we talk about it, coach­ing staff, train­ers and we tried to bat­tle through it, maybe it’s get­ting bet­ter - but it’s stayed the same,” Ovechkin said. “I have to get ready for the rest of the year, get healthy and I think we have a good chance to have suc­cess and I want to be a part of it. I don’t want to miss im­por­tant things.”

AP PHOTO

Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals’ Alex Ovechkin looks on dur­ing the first pe­riod of Wed­nes­day’s NHL game against the Philadel­phia Fly­ers in Wash­ing­ton.

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