What if I told you that an NHL team was on a five-game losing streak during which it's been outscored a combined 20-8, yet was the biggest moneyline favorite on a busy slate? That wouldn't seem right, but it's the case on Thursday because sliding Washington will welcome back superstar Alex Ovechkin as the Capitals host bottom-feeding Anaheim. Ovechkin had been away from the team on personal leave following the passing of his father. The Capitals opened at -260 at Caesars Sportsbook yesterday but now are -345 because of Ovechkin's return and a couple of Ducks injuries.
Ovechkin wasn't able to fly Russia until after his father, Mikhail, died Feb. 15, but said he was able to speak to him on the phone. Mikhail was the definition of a hockey dad and a familiar face at Capitals practices before his health took a turn in recent years. He remained in Russia when the Capitals won their first Stanley Cup in 2018. Alex brought the Cup to Moscow that offseason.
The future Hall of Famer returned to practice Wednesday but it wasn't originally clear if he might need a bit more time off. The 37-year-old, second all-time in goals scored in league history, leads the team with 32 this season to go with 22 assists.
The Capitals have gone 0-4 in Ovechkin's absence – he played in the first game of the five-game skid. It's the first time in nine years the team has a five-game regulation losing streak. Ovechkin is -175 to score a goal, which is a remarkably short number.
"I just want to come back right away, put my mind in a different position," the team captain said. "We're struggling right now, so I just want to try to do my best to bring energy, bring something to the team."
Washington needs every point it can get. It has 62 on the year, two behind Florida, which holds down the final Wild Card spot in the East. Detroit also has 62 points and Pittsburgh 63. The Caps have been stuck on 62 points for more than 10 days and a quartet of teams has passed them in the standings.
Charlie Lindgren (12-7-0, 2.69 GAA, .907 SV) gets the start in net tonight. The 29-year-old has allowed three or more goals in each of his last four starts but hasn't played since Feb. 12.
Anaheim is the final team the Caps are seeing for the first time in 2022-23. The Ducks are on the short list of the league's worst teams and will be without two key injured players in defenseman John Klingberg (22 points) and center Adam Henrique (33 points).
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