Really, fresh for the power play? Ovechkin could complete a biathlon between shifts.
“Sometimes if you’re not there you feel like you’re not in game but if you have 10-second shift or five-second shift you just have to go there and do something,” Ovechkin said. “It’s kind of hard but it is what it is.”
Winning is the greatest deodorant in sports, but it doesn’t cover up all the stench of percolating inner conflict on a team.
Eventually, Old School Ontario vs. The Russian Machine will boil over.
It could come after a shift, a practice or a series loss. If Hunter wants to remain as coach — and that’s certainly no guarantee — it better come after the Capitals stun the NHL and raise the Stanley Cup as a seventh seed in June; because that’s the only way Hunter ultimately wins that war.
Ovechkin’s benching isn’t the result of “line-matching,” like Hunter keeps saying. No, he doesn’t trust Ovechkin to be defensively responsible when the Capitals are protecting a lead. The numbers bear that out:
Ovechkin’s playoff-low in minutes for four years under Bruce Boudreau: 19:32. Under Hunter, he played a scant 15:34 in Game 5 against Boston and six minutes less Monday night.
Ovechkin isn’t decaying in Hunter’s kennel like John Erskine, Mike Knuble, Roman Hamrlik and Jeff Schultz were at times — or permanent doghouse resident Jeff Halpern. But there are clearly situations when the Capitals are short-handed, have the lead or are even tied that Hunter won’t send Ovechkin out there, essentially telling him, “I don’t feel you can help us at this time.”
Boudreau wasn’t happy with All Things Alex, but until his final season he didn’t feel he had the authority to tighten the leash; Hunter has him in a horse collar and muzzle.
Who’s winning this battle in the locker room? If Troy Brouwer’s quote from Comcast SportsNet’s Chuck Gormley is indicative — in response to Ovechkin saying he needs to have the puck when he’s gaining more speed — Hunter is leading by a mile:
“He’s got to come back [to the defensive zone] to get more speed,” Brouwer said. “He can’t be so impatient to get into the offensive zone. He’s got to make room for himself out there. We can only do so much. He can’t bottle himself up and wait for that long stretch pass with no speed. He’s got to come back and come with us as a unit.”
How long can this go on without causing a major distraction from a team with some major aspirations this spring? As long as the Capitals keep winning, that’s how long.
As long as Ovi doesn’t blow and Hunter’s strategy doesn’t backfire in a way that’s crippling to a team’s chances, all the discord in the world between them can be shelved if they keep piling up victories on somebody else’s ice.
For Mike Wise’s previous columns visit washingtonpost.com/wise.