Alex Ovechkin

Ovechkin brushes off benching: “It doesn’t matter how many minutes I play”

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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.

For now.

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.”

WATCH LIVE: Capitals at Flyers – Wednesday Night Rivalry

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 21: Tom Wilson #43 of the Washington Capitals checks Brandon Manning #23 of the Philadelphia Flyers during the third period at Wells Fargo Center on December 21, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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The latest edition of “Wednesday Night Rivalry” on NBCSN features the Washington Capitals visiting the Philadelphia Flyers.

Both teams have been stumbling a bit here and there. The Flyers only have three wins since Jan. 31, though one of them came in their last game on Sunday. The Capitals lost both games since returning from their bye week.

The cost of struggles are easier for Washington to stomach, naturally. They’d rather make their Metropolitan Division lead insurmountable, but even so, they’re at least three points ahead of everyone else and have played the same or fewer games as their divisional peers.

The Flyers, on the other hand, are fighting for their playoff lives. Right now they’re on the outside looking in.

So both teams want this one, but the desperation level is higher for Philly. We’ll see how that impacts the game on NBCSN tonight. You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream.

Pre-game reading: NHLers sound off on poor ice conditions

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— Up top, Danny Briere recalls that famous line brawl between the Flyers and Penguins in the 2012 playoffs. The two Pennsylvania rivals meet again Saturday, outdoors at Heinz Field.

— It has not been a good year for NHL ice, and a number of players are starting to get fed up. For example, Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk, who said, “It’s been awful. I don’t know what it is. Even in our building this year. I thought it was really good [when we came] back for World Cup and right after that for the first little bit. But the last little bit, it’s been so bad. The puck’s all over the place.” Guess we know how he’ll be filling out his survey. (ESPN)

— The days leading up to the trade deadline can be pretty stressful for players who may get moved. And if they do get moved, the days after can be pretty tough, too. “I saw my daughters four days out of three months when I went to Pittsburgh,” said Hurricanes forward Lee Stempniak, who’s been dealt three straight years at the deadline. “When I was traded to Winnipeg, I didn’t see my daughters for the two months or more I was there because of the schedule.” (The News & Observer)

— On the 2017 NHL draft, which may not have the star power of the last two drafts, but will still have some pretty good players available. Especially centers. (USA Today)

— San Jose’s Brent Burns is trying to become only the second defenseman in NHL history to win a scoring title. With 64 points, Burns is only three points back of Connor McDavid for the league lead, with Sidney Crosby in the mix as well. Bobby Orr won the Art Ross Trophy twice, the last time in 1974-75 when he piled up 135 points in 80 games for the Boston Bruins.  (Canadian Press)

— Another Shark, Joe Thornton, is just two assists from 1,000 in the NHL. Only 12 players have accomplished that, with Wayne Gretzky’s 1,963 helpers leading the way. Joe Sakic’s 1,016 are the closest to Thornton’s 998. (The Mercury News)

Enjoy the games!

Bolts rule out Callahan indefinitely following second hip surgery

Ryan Callahan
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Tampa Bay forward Ryan Callahan, who’s only played 18 games this year while recovering from offseason hip surgery, has undergone a follow-up procedure and will be sidelined indefinitely.

The Bolts made the announcement on Wednesday, just hours after a big 4-1 win over Edmonton. Callahan wasn’t in the lineup to face the Oilers — he hasn’t played since early January, when he skated just under 15 minutes in a loss to Philly.

The nature of this ailment has to be concerning.

Callahan, who turns 32 next month, is in the third of a six-year, $34.8 million deal with a $5.8M average annual cap hit. And this lingering hip problem comes on the heels of a disappointing ’15-16 campaign, in which Callahan scored just 10 goals and 28 points — the lowest marks since his rookie campaign.

As such, Tampa Bay is now bracing for an immediate future without a huge part of its leadership group. Captain Steve Stamkos has resumed skating, but there’s no set date for his return from major knee surgery.

Callahan, who’s been an alternate captain in each of the last three seasons, won’t be playing anytime soon either.

 

Kadri ‘not worried’ after Chiarot predicts revenge for big hit (Video)

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Toronto forward Nazem Kadri drew the ire of Jets d-man Ben Chiarot on Tuesday night for a big — albeit questionable — hit in the Leafs’ OT win.

Chiarot was visibly displeased following the game and alluded to getting even.

“It’s not the right time or place to chase him down, but there will be a time down the line,” he said, per Sportsnet. “Might not be this year, might not be next year.

“But there will be a time where the shoe will be on the other foot.”

Today, Kadri responded.

“I’m not worried at all,” Kadri said, per TSN. “I’ll be here for hopefully a few years. But like I said, if that was one of my teammates getting hit like that, I probably wouldn’t be too happy, so I expect that kind of reaction.”

Kadri’s hit, which went unpenalized, drew the ire of Chiarot’s head coach as well. Jets bench boss Paul Maurice was also visibly displeased following the game.

“He’s six inches in the air when he makes contact,” Maurice said, per Sportsnet. “In my mind, from the rear view, the first thing that moves on Benny is the helmet. Didn’t like it.”

Kadri’s been involved in a few high-profile collisions this season. He pasted Sabres captain Brian Gionta in a game earlier this month, and avoided suspension for a controversial hit on Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin back in November.