Hurt Ovechkin, ill Toews to miss NHL All-Star Game

Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, pictured on January 27, 2016, will rest a nagging lower body injury instead of playing in the All-Star Game (AFP Photo/Patrick Smith)

New York (AFP) - Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin and Chicago Blackhawks skipper Jonathan Toews will miss Sunday's NHL All-Star Game as they seek to regain full fitness for a push toward the playoffs.

Russian star Ovechkin, a five-time NHL goal-scoring champion who ranks second in the NHL this season with 28, will rest a nagging lower body injury that has been bothering the 30-year-old left wing since November.

"Would I like to have Ovie in Nashville? Absolutely," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "But you have to look at the big picture. ... We have to make the right decision.

"If we want to get to where we want to get to, we can't do that without Ovie at 100 percent."

Toews will miss the annual mid-season clash of elite talent due to illness. The 27-year-old Canadian was pulled from the last period of a 5-0 loss Tuesday at Carolina due to illness.

"(Toews) remains symptomatic," Blackhawks team physician Michael Terry said Thursday. "Rest over the break is most important for him to properly recover and be fully healthy heading into the rest of the season."

NHL rules require players named to the All-Star Game who do not participate to miss his team's game before or after the contest, so Toews will miss Chicago's contest Tuesday against Colorado and Ovechkin will miss Washington's home game Tuesday against rival Eastern Conference division leader Florida.

"We have to pay a penalty for (Ovie missing the All-Star Game) and we're willing to do that," Trotz said.

"We believe it's better if he uses this time to heal and ideally be completely healthy for the duration of the season," Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said.

A new All-Star Game format for this year features four teams, one from each NHL division, and 20-minute mini-games using 3-on-3 skaters and a goaltender. Eastern and Western conference divisions will meet and the winners play to decide a champion. The NHL adopted a 3-on-3 overtime format this season to reduce the number of games decided in shootouts.

Ovechkin was to have been the captain of the Metropolitan division team that plays the Atlantic division in the opener on Sunday. Instead, New York Islanders playmaker John Tavares will replace him as All-Star division captain.

James Neal of the All-Star Game host Nashville Predators will replace Toews on the Central division roster that will face the Pacific division squad in the second matchup.

Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov, fifth in the NHL in total 49 points with 15 goals and assists on 34 others, will replace teammate and compatriot Ovechkin on the Metropolitan roster.

Kuznetsov, 23, makes his All-Star debut in a season where he tops the NHL in "plus-minus" -- being on the ice 24 more times when his team scores than when it is scored upon.