Wednesday afternoon, the Comcast SportsNet analyst appeared on ESPN 980, and was asked about McGuire’s contention that Ovechkin’s minutes against the Rangers were slashed due to sub-par defensive play.
“You know what, I think he’s off-point, to tell you the truth,” May said. “[The Caps] have two lines that play really physical minutes and their first thought when they go on the ice is shutting teams down. They’re all about defense, puck management. And with Ovechkin, they got the lead the other day, and they kind of sat on it. They kept putting their guys out to go against the Rangers top offensive players.
“Dale didn’t have the last change. [In Game 3], he has the last change, and you’re gonna see those minutes change. A lot of people, all they want to do is point out the bad things Ovechkin does. And you question it....The last game was just about line matchups, but [in Game 3], with the last line change, you’re gonna see Ovechkin and Backstrom out there all the time.”
Then Steve Czaban asked May about Barry Melrose’s assertion that Ovechkin was serving as a sort of DH, only involved in offensive situations.
“You know what, I’m not concerned with soundbites for my career,” May said. “And I think a lot of people make things up just so they’ve got something to talk about. He’s not a DH. He’s still a phenomenal hockey player. They’re playing playoff hockey. He wants to win. Every player in the league wants to win. He wants to be mentioned in the same breath as Gretzky and Lemieux, Brett Hull. All those guys have championships. He’s doing whatever he needs to do....
“He’s not a penalty killer. They didn’t draft him where they drafted him to be a defensive guy. They wanted goal scoring. His physical play is something else. He has a purpose on that team, and it’s not to block shots. And everyone chastises him fort that, but I don’t think I ever saw Wayne Gretzky block a shot....It’s just a matter of time before he unleashes it, and Dale gets him back up there at 22, 23 minutes.”
In point of fact, Ovechkin played 35 minutes and 14 seconds on Wednesday, longer than any Caps forward except Marcus Johansson, who had seven seconds more of ice time. Nicklas Backstrom logged more than 34 minutes.
And while May’s prediction turned out to be true, here’s how Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick forecast the thing on the NBC pre-game show.
“Ovechkin doesn’t bring it like some of [Hunter’s] second-class citizens, for lack of a better phrase,” Milbury said.
“How would you teach him, though, to play defense this quickly?” Roenick asked. “If he wants to play, he’s gonna have to change. Is there something as a coach that you would say to him, that’ll get him on the ice in those key situations?”
“I think [Hunter is] saying it loud and clear with the ice time, to be honest with you,” Milbury said. “He’s telling him that you’re not getting it done. If he can’t [see] everybody else digging in to do the kind of things he’s supposed to do to contribute, then he’s gonna be limited to this kind of performance....For three or four years, he ruled the roost. He could do whatever the heck he wanted. Finally they get somebody there, Bruce Boudreau it was, not Hunter, says you’ve got to do it this way. Didn’t work out for Bruce. It’s working out a little better for Dale Hunter.”
“I don’t think he was prepared at the beginning of the season,” Roenick later said. “He didn’t have a good season. He started to come on a little bit at the end. But I’ll tell ya, Dale Hunter right now is laying the law down. It’s his team, it’s his rules, it’s his way.”
“It’s attention to detail,” Milbury agreed. “You don’t have to be a Rhodes Scholar to get defense, but you have to pay attention to it, and you have to feel like it’s part of your responsibilities. So far, Ovechkin hasn’t learned that. What that makes him, I don’t know. But it makes him on the bench a lot lately.”
For the playoffs, Ovechkin is now averaging 20:45 of ice time per game, which is 27th among NHL forwards, and third among Caps forwards, behind Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich.