With controversy swirling above, Alex Ovechkin said all the right things.
“It doesn’t matter how many minutes I play,” Washington’s captain said the day after playing 1:58 in the third period of a 2-1 win over Boston. “Of course I want to be there, but it’s [head coach Dale Hunter’s] decision.”
And with that, the story of the Great Eight’s benching was dead.
Thing is, the optics of this latest incident will probably last a while. Ovechkin is Washington’s captain, highest-paid and most talented player. He’s the team leader and the face of the franchise, which makes the following two facts so stunning:
1) In the last 14 minutes of Washington’s biggest game of the year, Ovechkin played 15 seconds.
2) No Capital played less in the third period.
That said, Washington players were quick to contextualize those two stats.
“Just because he’s not on the ice, doesn’t mean he’s not a big part of the team. He’s paid to score goals. He’s here to score goals, and make sure we’re in games and giving ourselves a chance to win games,” forward Troy Brouwer said. “If we were down a goal, he’d be the guy that would probably log the most amount of ice time.
“But being a game where you have a one-goal lead, they have a pretty good push, you want your defensive guys out, the guys who are usually on the penalty kill, the shutdown line – and he understands that.”
Head coach Dale Hunter said his decision was all about line matching and putting out shot-blockers.
“You want your best players blocking shots, but your offensive guys, but you don’t want them breaking a foot, either,” he explained.
Problem is, that theory falls a little flat.
Hunter gave Alex Semin (3:03) and Marcus Johansson (3:52) more ice than Ovi in the third, and neither of them are Dikembe Mutombo — they’ve combined for four blocks in four games.
The reality is that Hunter’s explanation for benching Ovechkin is the same explanation he gave for parking him versus Philadelphia back in March. Both instances occurred after an Ovechkin turnover resulted in a goal against, and both were masked under the notion of “matching lines”.
The question is: Will it have any long-lasting effect? Judging by Ovechkin’s comments, you’d have to say….no.
“I understand it. I accept it — it doesn’t matter if I’m going to play 10 seconds or 5 seconds,” he said. “Most important thing is team result.”