Alex Ovechkin’s transformation this season under Coach Adam Oates won’t be limited to a switch to right wing. Asked Wednesday if he would consider using the star forward on the penalty kill, Oates replied “absolutely”.
“He’s a smart hockey player. And a lot of times penalty killers are smart guys,” Oates explained. “You need execution, you need clearers, you need guys that know what a power play will do. And he’s also a threatening player. When a team’s power play’s on the ice, they know he’s out there. If we can get in their heads a little bit, that’s a great situation to be in.”
It’s essentially the same transition that Devils Coach Pete DeBoer asked of Ilya Kovalchuk last year in New Jersey, where Oates was an assistant coach. In addition to shifting to right wing, Kovalchuk was asked to become a more sound defensive player and learn how to play on the penalty kill.
Obviously there’s an inherent injury risk to putting Ovechkin on the penalty kill, where he would be in position to block shots. It’s that exact reason former coach Bruce Boudreau always cited when asked whether he would use Ovechkin with the Caps shorthanded. Oates acknowledged injuries are a concern, but seems to consider it an acceptable risk. “That’s a coach’s nightmare, but that’s part of the deal,” he said.
Ovechkin has played 178 minutes 38 seconds of shorthanded ice time in his career, but Oates thinks adding penalty killing to his repertoire would benefit the 27 year old. It would certainly help get him on the ice more consistently, regardless of the game situation.
“Let’s say we get two penalties in a row, I’ve got to get him on the ice, so he’s got to learn how to play that situation,” Oates said. “I also think it helps him. When you play penalty killing, you learn little things that maybe will help him on the power play. We’ve got a lead and the team pulls the goalie, he’s got to be out there. So he’s got to know how to play there. That’s an important time for our team.”
Oates wants to use Ovechkin in all situations during the course of the game. During Dale Hunter’s tenure as coach, if the Capitals were trying to protect a lead at any point, Ovechkin’s minutes dipped.
Oates will trust Ovechkin in those tense moments even late in games, he said.
“I have to,” Oates said. “He’s got to do the job.