Alex Ovechkin says he understands why Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau benched him briefly

November 2, 2011

Alex Ovechkin was among the first players to step onto the ice Wednesday morning. As the Washington Capitals’ practice began, he joked with teammates and took his usual spot — front and center — for Coach Bruce Boudreau’s chalk talks. There was no sign that a little more than 12 hours earlier, he was muttering curse words on the bench, angry that he wasn’t playing in the final minute of regulation against the Anaheim Ducks.

Ovechkin, Washington’s captain, highest-paid player and franchise cornerstone, was not among the six players Boudreau put on the ice with his team down one goal with 62 seconds remaining in Tuesday night’s contest. He didn’t play well up to that point and the coach’s move paid off in an eventual 5-4 overtime win. It was also a decision that Ovechkin said he understood, although he acknowledged he was angry at the time.

“Of course I want to be in that situation on the ice and you know it doesn’t matter who I said and what I said,” Ovechkin said of the apparent expletives television cameras caught him saying after learning he would be watching the end of regulation from the bench.

“It look funny on TV. And I don’t know, right now it’s big story,” he continued. “It’s just a little bit frustrating because I’m a leader on the team and I want to be on that kind of responsibility, but Bruce put Brooks [Laich’s] line and it worked. Of course, I understand.”

Boudreau said he didn’t hear Ovechkin’s reaction on the bench and that ultimately he didn’t care what was said. The coach stood by his decision — the hunch that wound up forcing overtime as Nicklas Backstrom scored the tying goal with 42 seconds left. Boudreau added that while he didn’t expect Ovechkin to be pleased about not playing, he also wasn’t surprised that the star left wing didn’t sulk afterward.

“Alex understands and gets it,” Boudreau said. “He’s a great captain that way. He gets mad because he wants to play and he wants to compete.”

Since the offseason, Boudreau and General Manager George McPhee have emphasized accountability, from stringent conditioning benchmarks and tougher practices to rewarding players who work hard and perform well on a nightly basis.

Electing to not play Ovechkin late in a close game makes it clear to the entire team that the rules apply to everyone.

“I hope the message has gotten clear from July to now,” Boudreau said. “I’m hoping we don’t change that message. We’re going to try to stay strong with it. That’s what it is and that’s the only way that we’re going to be successful.”

The willingness to bench everyone — from top offensive talent to fourth-line grinders — is partially a reflection on the deeper lineup that the Capitals employ this season, but it’s also evidence of a culture change that the players readily accept.

It’s different than “probably every year [Boudreau’s] been coach here,” winger Mike Knuble said. “If you didn’t play certain guys a couple years ago, it was biting your nose off to spite your face a little bit, but now there are guys that can grind and get goals and do that.”

Knuble added that seeing Ovechkin’s demeanor Wednesday in practice didn’t go unnoticed, either.

“It’s just a good thing to see and he’s going to rebound the next day, maybe work a little harder in practice, get a bit of a message,” Knuble added. “Good to see it’s not carrying on, it’s just one game.”

Capitals notes: Mike Green is doubtful to return from a twisted right ankle Friday at Carolina after suffering an apparent setback with the injury when he skated no more than 10 minutes Wednesday. . . .

Troy Brouwer missed practice after suffering an apparent right shoulder injury late in the third period against Anaheim, but there is no structural damage to his shoulder and he should be able to play this weekend, according to a team source.

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