A lot has been made about Alexander Ovechkin’s ice time during these playoffs. For a thoughtful dialogue on the issue, check out Post Sports Live http://wapo.st/IGDjZl. A lot of great points are made here, but I sense that it’s getting blown out of proportion a little. Here’s my take on it.
First of all, Dale Hunter is no dummy. He knows that he needs Ovechkin scoring to win the Cup. So my thought is that this is as much about putting Ovechkin in position to score as it is about masking his defensive liabilities and matching lines. I read an interesting blog article Monday about Ovechkin's production and how teams are defending him. The big theory is that teams are defending the spots on the ice from where he likes to shoot rather than defending Ovi himself. Therefore Ovi must change his game to score from different spots on the ice. But the big statistic that no one is really talking about is the percentage of shots taken by the Capitals during Ovechkin's 5 on 5 shifts. It has gone down dramatically over the last two years, along with Ovechkin's production. Which means, teams are defending him by making him play more defense.
If you watched Game 1 vs. the Rangers, in which Ovechkin logged more ice time yet only one shot on goal, he spent most of his shifts mucking the puck out of his own end and then had nothing left in the tank at the end of his shift when the Caps got the puck. So, if you're Hunter, and you want a fresh Ovechkin on the ice to attack the net, you may try to pick your spots to get him on the ice in the offensive zone. You also see him playing more with Laich, Brouwer and Ward, forwards who can fish the puck out of the corner and get it to Ovechkin in transition. Like I said, I think Hunter is smart and trying to put Ovechkin in position to be successful, which could also mean less ice time and different line combinations than what we’re used to seeing. If you look at Ovechkin's Game 2 stats (other than ice time) you'd think he played the whole game - a game high 7 shots on goal, GWG and a couple of hits. He was darn close to scoring more than one goal. Yes, I would like to see Ovechkin on the ice more, but if he can be that productive in 13 minutes, then I say let him be rested for a long Cup run.
My guess is that tonight in Game 3 you'll see Ovi’s ice time increase as Hunter can dictate more advantageous line match ups with the last change. You’ll also see his minutes go up if the Caps can take less penalties and/or be on the man advantage more often. It may not be the minutes he's used to seeing, but they will go up.
And a final footnote for Ovechkin - the Caps are 0-2 in the playoffs this year when he has logged more than 20 minutes of ice time.
Let's go Caps!