Rob Soria is the Edmonton Oilers' correspondent for OurHometown.ca. Rob was born and raised in Edmonton and is the author of the Edmonton Oilers blog - OilDrop.ca. He has been a dedicated follower of the game and its history for years but his focus remains on his hometown Edmonton Oilers. If you have questions or wish to contact Rob, you can email him at email@example.com
Capitals Ovechkin doing all he can, while Hunter continues to play with fire
Alex Ovechkin is the Washington Capitals best player and would seem to be a likely candidate to play as many minutes as possible to help carry his club victories. Instead, head coach Dale Hunter seems almost hell-bent on doing the complete opposite, by limiting his the former MVP's ice time.
Edmonton - May 2, 2012 - While the Washington Capitals are blessed with having one of the league's true superstar players in Alex Ovechkin, they currently seem to be fine with using the former MVP as nothing more then a spare part. While no one would consider the "Great 8" of being an overly defensively responsible player, he doesn't exactly hurt his team when he is on the ice. The best way for any club to play defence, is to keep possession of the puck and that is something the big Russian excels at. Make no mistake, Ovechkin is Washington's best player and would seem to be a likely candidate to play as many minutes as possible to help carry his club to victories. Instead, head coach Dale Hunter seems almost hell-bent on doing the complete opposite. Alex saw all of 13:36 in ice time during the Capitals 3-2 victory over the New York Ranger in Game Two of their second round match up, a stat that lift many observers scratching their heads. The decrease in time would make perfect sense if he were struggling but it is one that looks almost absurd, when you consider he was the Caps best skater on the night...and by a very wide margin.
The former sixty-five goal man was not only a force whenever he hit the ice but he took a game high seven shots on net and scored the winning goal late in the third period. Simply put, Ovi is a horse that typically plays twenty minutes night and while he sometimes does take look shifts and can certainly frustrate his coach with some of his on ice decisions, the guy is a flat out stud. Players like him have to be your go to guy at crunch time and yet he has seen his time severely limited at times during this post season...despite being their best player on most nights. Sending a message to your top players when they are not producing is one thing but to go out and frankly embarrass him for no good reason, sends a completely different message.
Hunter has not only risked the Capitals potential to succeed in these playoffs with these bush league tactics but has undoubtedly placed a strain on his relationship with Ovechkin. As a coach, when you decide to sit your top player in favour of bottom six guys, your are playing with fire. I'm sorry but there is no good reason that anyone could give me that would explain why Alex was not only eighth among Capital forwards in ice time on Monday night but he also played substantially less then the likes of Jay Beagle and Matt Hendricks. In fact, those two have played as much or more then the four time fifty goal man in two of the last three games. The idea of playing Ovechkin a ton when your team is losing and in need of goals and then having him sit for long stretches when you are trying to "protect" a lead, is to put it mildly, asinine.
In my mind, a highly skilled player's drive and willingness to do almost anything to carry his side to victory, is what makes an elite player. While the Capitals have had their share of playoff failures during Ovechkin's time in Washington, he has always produced in the post season. Nothing against Dale Hunter and his love affair with those hard nosed checking players but those guys don't lead you to squat. Every successful club needs those bottom six energy guys to do their part and play a role to help the club reach their ultimate goal but it should never be at the expense of your top end talent. Do you think that Craig MacTavish and Dave Hunter were seeing more ice then Wayne Gretzky at any point during the Oilers dynasty years? How about Mario Lemieux? If you would like to look at a more recent vintage, did the Kris Draper's of the world see the ice more often then the likes of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk? How about Jonathan Toews? Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin? The answer is pretty clear.
Alex Ovechkin is one of the top players in the game today and in order to help his team to its fullest potential, he needs to be utilized as such. To his credit, you have heard next to nothing out of him about the Caps decision to use him as infrequently as they have during points of this year's playoffs but you can tell it does not sit well with the former Art Ross Trophy winner. When Dale Hunter was brought on board to replace Bruce Boudreau as Washington's bench boss, he inherited the luxury of having one of the NHL's most dynamic players to throw over the boards on a nightly basis. It is a situation that most coaches would kill for but one that Hunter almost seems uncomfortable with. If he honestly believes playing mind games with his star player is the best route for his team to be successful in the playoffs, I wish him well. However, it is my belief that this mindset will not only end up costing the Washington Capitals an opportunity of making a legitimate run deep into the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs but will ultimately cost Hunter his job behind the Capitals bench.
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