It might have appeared to Alex Ovechkin that the Washington Capitals didn't need him in their most recent games, but they'll gladly take the three-time MVP back in the lineup.
Ovechkin expects to return for Tuesday night's visit from the New York Islanders, but coach Adam Oates said the high-scoring forward's status will likely be a game-time decision.
Ovechkin has missed the past two games with an upper-body injury but returned to practice Monday and declared himself ready to go.
"I'm probably going to play, and I'm happy to be back," said the winger, who has 10 goals and five assists in 12 games.
Oates, however, was a little more cautious about whether Ovechkin would return for the Capitals' attempts at a season high-tying third straight win and a third in a row at home.
"He feels obviously a lot better. He got through a full practice, and we just make sure tomorrow everything's okay," Oates said. "I wouldn't play him if I thought it was something that could linger. He'll be close to 100 percent to play. It doesn't make sense to play a guy with something that's lingering and I don't see that as the case."
Oates' club earned two wins during Ovechkin's absence, beginning with a 7-0 rout in Philadelphia on Friday. The Capitals (7-7-0) registered a 3-2 shootout win over visiting Florida the next day as Nicklas Backstrom scored his third goal in two games.
Joel Ward recorded his first career hat trick Friday, and Jason Chimera had his fourth goal in four games along with three assists. Chimera totaled nine points in those four games before coming up empty Saturday.
"They don't need me," Ovechkin joked Monday. "They win two games. It's kind of scary to go back to a line and mess with the lines. We'll see."
If he returns, Ovechkin will face an Islanders team that's seeking to build on its first win streak of the season. After rallying for a 5-4 shootout win over Ottawa on Friday, New York (6-5-3) never looked back after scoring the first two goals in a 3-1 victory against Boston the next day.
Thomas Vanek scored his first goal in three games since being acquired from Buffalo and added an assist. The other two members of New York's top line also contributed as John Tavares scored his second goal in as many games and Kyle Okposo matched a career high with three assists.
"That felt really good, a relief for me," said Vanek, who recorded his 500th NHL point. "Each day we're feeling better and better and working together. Tonight you saw what can be possible with our line."
The Islanders will be seeking a third straight road win and their third in the last four meetings with Washington. New York went 2-0-1 against the Capitals last season, and Tavares had a team-best three goals.
The Islanders captain has seven goals and an assist in his last seven matchups with Washington, and Vanek has four goals and six assists during a nine-game point streak versus Washington.
Frans Nielsen has two goals and nine assists during a seven-game point streak against the Capitals.
Ovechkin had one assist in last season's three meetings after totaling 19 goals and 11 assists in his first 26 matchups.