Coach Bruce Boudreau said Monday that Ovechkin will be sidelined for seven to 10 days with an undisclosed injury.
"He's been bothered by this nagging ailment for a couple of months," Boudreau said. "We just thought we'd take care of it now. His body needs a little bit of rest. We thought this was a good time to rest his body for a week to two weeks so he's fresh come April."
Boudreau wouldn't go into detail about an injury, other than to say that Ovechkin is mainly "sore." The coach said the break would also give his star player a chance to deal with the general aches and pains that come from Ovechkin's physical style of play.
The Capitals can afford to play without Ovechkin for a few games because the team has played well lately after some midseason struggles. Washington has won 12 of 14 to take over first place in the Southeast Division and move in on the Philadelphia Flyers for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Capitals visit the Flyers on Tuesday, the fourth of six consecutive road games.
Ovechkin had also started to regain his scoring stride, with points in 14 of the last 16 games, but his ice time has decreased lately and he has missed practices. Given the Capitals' recent history of playoff disappointments — including last year's first-round exit to Montreal as the top seed in the East — the team felt it was better to act now.
"He hasn't practiced with the team in a while," Boudreau said. "He wants to feel better. He doesn't like waking up every morning and feeling like he's got to go through an hour of just doing stuff to get ready to practice or to play. He wants to feel healthy. The playoffs are very important to him and he wants to be at his best when we arrive there."
Ovechkin has yet to miss a game this season. He has 29 goals and 77 points, on pace for his lowest totals in both categories since he entered the NHL in 2005. The decreased production is partly due to the team's new emphasis on defense, but Boudreau said the injury might have also played a factor.