The third period of Game 4 when he skated only 1 minute, 58 seconds is the most glaring example. It was attributed to line matching by Coach Dale Hunter, but given that Ovechkin’s linemates that game both saw more shifts and ice time in the third, it was likely more of an indictment of the star winger’s defensive play.
In Game 5, Ovechkin skated only 15 minutes, 34 seconds — a career postseason low.
Hunter has made no qualms about adjusting lineups, ice time or a player’s individual responsibilities during his tenure and that has required an adjustment on the part of some players.
“He’s a big part of the team,” Hunter said. “But still, you need the whole team. Come a game like this, you need the four lines and the six D and the goalie going. He’s got to battle against [Bruins defenseman Zdeno] Chara every shift. Come playoff time, it’s always the surprise guys who score the big goals to win the games.”
After Game 4, Ovechkin stated: “It doesn’t matter if I’m going to play 10 seconds or 5 seconds, most important thing is team result.” He echoed that sentiment again on Tuesday when asked about his role with Hunter as bench boss, but Ovechkin acknowledged he doesn’t enjoy being the guy on the bench.
“Of course, sometimes you get angry you didn’t play a lot [of] minutes,” Ovechkin said. “And sometimes you get angry you’re not out there. But if it’s good for the team, you have to eat it, and you have to stay in the same course. Of course, sometimes I get angry I didn’t play, but it’s normal routine. It’s normal stuff.”
Has Ovechkin’s role changed? Certainly a bit. He still gets important minutes when the Capitals are trailing but less so when they’re ahead or even as Hunter relies most on his trusted two-way forwards. Ovechkin is no longer the go-to option in all situations when it comes to ice time.
“My role is still to score goals,” Ovechkin said. “But sometimes in different situations, he puts different guys out there. If we win, we win. If we lose, we’re going to lose. But ... everybody wants to support each other, [no] matter what. And this is the most important thing.”
No one expects Ovechkin to be thrilled to sit on the bench, but accepting that at times it may be what is best for the group is an important development for him and one that doesn’t go unnoticed by his teammates.
“He’s always been a team player. He’s understanding that, although he’s our best player and our go-to guy, there are times when other guys need to go in and do it as well and chip away in order for him to come in and seal the deal,” Karl Alzner said. “He understands now exactly why he’s not out there at times. It’s not a shock to me or anybody.”