While the Washington Capitals superstar will begin serving a three-game suspension as these teams open their season series Tuesday night, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner could be in net after a controversial decision to skip the Bruins' White House visit.
For a team already playing without leading scorer Nicklas Backstrom (concussion) and high-scoring defenseman Mike Green (abdominal surgery), Ovechkin's absence doesn't figure to help the Capitals (25-19-3) establish some elusive consistency.
They seemed to have found a groove by winning three straight earlier this month, but they've since dropped three of four -- including a pair of shutout defeats against the last-place Hurricanes and Islanders -- to slip back behind Florida in the Southeast Division.
Washington was somewhat satisfied with one point Sunday after rallying from an early 2-0 deficit in a 4-3 overtime loss at Pittsburgh. Ovechkin had a goal and two assists for his first three-point game of the season, but he also earned his third career suspension for a high hit on Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek.
"It was a hit," Ovechkin said before the NHL ruling. "I don't want to comment on my hit."
Boston (31-13-2) has also dealt with a pair of bans lately, with Brad Marchand having finished a five-game suspension and Andrew Ference in the midst of a three-gamer.
Those could be among the reasons coach Claude Julien's team is just 3-2-1 to begin a stretch of seven games -- six on the road -- in 11 days leading up to All-Star weekend. The Bruins had been 25-4-1 in their previous 30.
"We need to improve," Thomas said Sunday after the Bruins blew a two-goal lead in the second period and a one-goal advantage in the third during a 6-5 shootout win at Philadelphia. "We played some real good hockey a majority of the year. We've found a way to get points. It's nice to win, but we want to do it the right way."
Critics have said that Thomas did not go about an apparent political protest the right way Monday, when the Conn Smythe winner skipped a White House event honoring the Bruins for the franchise's first championship since 1972.
Thomas made a brief statement about his absence.
"I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People," the statement read. "This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.
"Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL."
The Bruins hope the distraction doesn't prevent them from entering All-Star weekend with at least a share of the Eastern Conference lead. They're tied with the New York Rangers atop the East, with each club playing its final game before the break Tuesday. The Rangers host Winnipeg.
Boston will be facing the Capitals for the first time since a 3-2 home win Dec. 18, 2010, its third victory in four meetings last season. Thomas made 39 saves in that game, improving to 13-4-2 with a 2.49 goals-against average in 20 career games versus Washington.
It's unclear if Boston will have Nathan Horton on the ice after he missed the third period Sunday following a high hit from Philadelphia's Tom Sestito.
Washington hopes to get second-year center Marcus Johansson back after he sat out Sunday with an illness.
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