Video: Dale Hunter on his gutsy coaching decisions

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The Alex Ovechkin ice time question isn’t likely to be on the top of the docket for the press when Washington Capitals head coach Dale Hunter takes the podium tonight, but it’s been an inevitable concern lately. When you employ a player with the NHL’s biggest cap hit and put him on the ice for less than 14 minutes, the questions are going to come.

However you feel about Hunter, he has the courage (or as David Backes might say, the cajones) to do what he thinks is best. Hunter discusses leaning on role players and more in the video from Game 3’s pregame show.

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Reunited? Ovechkin and Backstrom practice on same line


We’ve talked nearly to death about Alex Ovechkin’s use or lack thereof in the playoffs but one guy he hasn’t really teamed up with often in the playoffs is Nicklas Backstrom. The two have been playing on separate lines for the most part through the postseason but things might be changing for tonight’s Game 3.’s Chuck Gormley reports Backstrom and Ovechkin were teamed up on the same line for the team’s morning skate along with Marcus Johansson. Caps coach Dale Hunter has been quick to change things up through games so who knows how long we’ll see the two of them together at even strength tonight. If Ovechkin and Backstrom team up together the chances of Washington having one offensively dominant line jump dramatically.

The downside to this is that the Rangers can do their best to try and match up their defense to try and shut them down. Dan Girardi and Marc Staal are the pairing that’s been tasked with keeping Ovechkin quiet but with the Caps being at home, they get last change and the opportunity to avoid that pairing at least off a faceoff.

If the Caps have a lead, expect to see less of Alex Ovechkin


Alex Ovechkin’s ice time has been a major talking point throughout the playoffs. Whether the Caps win or lose, scanning Ovechkin’s time-on-ice column on the stat sheet has almost overtaken looking to see how many points he’s put up.

Caps coach Dale Hunter has made it obvious if they’re ahead, you won’t see much of Ovechkin late in games. CSNWashington’s Chuck Gormley hears from Caps defenseman Karl Alzner that while Ovechkin might want the minutes, he knows getting angry about it won’t help the team.

“You know he wants to play more and he’s frustrated at not playing 20 minutes,” Alzner said. “But he doesn’t care. He wants to win that game. He played 13 minutes and went out and scored the most important goal of the game.

“If guys are getting upset about ice time and that’s all you’re worried about you’re not going to play good. I’ve seen it happen to a lot of guys in the seven years I’ve been playing. It’s pretty obvious.”

It’s one thing if third and fourth line guys are yelling about minutes, it’s another thing entirely if it’s one of the five best players in the game. Watching how Hunter handles Ovechkin is proving to be a drama unto itself and one that leaves everyone open to criticism. Just imagine what the talk would’ve been had the Rangers won Game 2.

Ryan Callahan says the Caps “were more desperate” in Game 2


The intensity the Washington Capitals brought in their Game 2 victory helped show the New York Rangers that this playoff series wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. After getting outworked in Game 1, the Capitals tapped back into what helped them get past the Boston Bruins in the first round.’s Chuck Gormley hears it from Rangers captain Ryan Callahan they expected a big push back from the Caps and handled it poorly.

“They were more desperate than they were [in Game1],” Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said after the Capitals evened their bet-of-seen series with a 3-2 win at Madison Square Garden. “I thought they competed a lot harder; we expected that. We knew they were going to come out hard.”

Desperation like Washington showed in Game 2 helped make sure they could go back home all even.

Outside of Alex Ovechkin’s game-winner, the goals weren’t pretty to see. They were dirty, grimy, blue-collar style goals that saw the Capitals force play on the Rangers and make them uncomfortable. Doing all that while Braden Holtby (and the iron behind him) kept New York out is just how Dale Hunter wants to see things. Keeping that desperation level up the rest of the way will be the trick the Caps need to pull off if they want to get to the Eastern Conference finals.

Alex Ovechkin diplomatic about benching: “You have to suck it up”


If Alex Ovechkin is furious about his meager ice time, he’s at least keeping those views to himself. Once again the Washington Capitals captain is saying all the right things about Dale Hunter’s decision to glue him to the bench for most of Game 2, which he eventually decided with a 3-2 goal.

Katie Carrera collected Ovechkin’s thoughts on his 13:36 minutes of ice time.

“You have to suck it up and use what time Dale is giving to me,” Ovechkin said.

Yup, that more or less follows the pattern of Ovi’s diplomatic comments regarding his scant opportunities so far in the 2012 playoffs. For whatever it’s worth, Washington has five playoff wins so far after being swept from the second round in 2011.

Ovechkin seems to get Hunter’s message about what he needs to do to receive more ice time.

“Score goals and play safely,” Ovechkin said. “when you play safely the team and the coaches have trust in you.”

Fans who loved Ovechkin for the days when he was basically a human video game – hard hits, big goals and unfiltered exuberance – might be a little bummed about that, but it’s clearly what Hunter wants. The Capitals’ head coach provided some extra insight about Ovechkin’s ice time and attitude in these quotes from Stephen Whyno.

“Some nights, it’s one way – this night, one way and then the next night I double-shifted him a few games during the year. He played 25 minutes or something, and he’s fine with that, being extra tired at the end,” Hunter said. “He’s one of these guys that he’s a team guy and he wants to win very badly. He’s the biggest cheerleader there late in the game there when these guys are going down blocking shots.”

Who knows how long this fascinating Hunter-Ovechkin partnership will actually last, but Hunter probably makes the most prescient point: if they keep winning, they’ll keep the peace. Winning has a way of smoothing things over, after all – but the Capitals still have a long way to go before everyone starts looking like geniuses.