After the Washington Capitals’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, one of the more stunning revelations was how little Alex Ovechkin was on the ice in a close game. He played 14:12, his fewest minutes in a full game (non-injury and non-ejection) since 2005, when he was just five games into his NHL career.
On Wednesday, Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said he wasn’t intentionally trying to limit Ovechkin’s playing time. Trotz reasoned that the ice time was fairly even for all four lines. Some players, such as the trio of Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and Marcus Johansson, had more minutes because they’re on certain special teams.
Just three forwards played fewer minutes than Ovechkin at even strength. The team had just two power plays, which likely contributed to Ovechkin’s diminished ice time. His shifts were also shorter.
“For the most part, they were all pretty even,” Trotz said. “That was not a conscious decision on my part at all. That was just a conscious decision to go four lines for the most part. Sometimes in the game, just the reps, who’s up, and then all of a sudden you get a penalty or something like that. You know, you lose a shift here or there. No conscious decision. It was more of doing the four lines.”
Through 15 games, Ovechkin is averaging 18:28 per game, down nearly two minutes from last season.
>>> With Washington’s power play in a slump — one goal in its last 19 chances — Trotz hinted at personnel changes. Last season, Trotz moved Andre Burakovsky off the second unit and added Jason Chimera as a net-front presence, and that seemed to spark that group for a stretch.
“The analytics part of our power play is fine,” Trotz said. “The entries, the zone time, the shot attempts. All the stats are there, but the finish is not. That’s your power play. There are so many good things that we do, but the best thing that we can do is score on it. So, we may tweak a guy here or a guy there. It won’t be an indictment on that person if we do make a couple of switches. It might be just to see if a change will be good for us in terms of finding the back of the net. …
“Maybe switching someone down low on the power play. Also, maybe doing it up top, just giving it another look up top. So, that’s what we’re going to talk about this afternoon or this morning.”
Sullivan on Caps' PP (11.9%): "I don't hold a lot of validity in the numbers at this point in the season. They're a very good power play."— Tom Gulitti (@TomGulittiNHL) November 16, 2016
>>> After being a healthy scratch on Tuesday night, defenseman Nate Schmidt will be back in the lineup against the Penguins. Taylor Chorney will be the healthy scratch. Forward Brett Connolly will also be back in the lineup, likely replacing forward Daniel Winnik.
Taking Schmidt out of the lineup for two of the past three games wasn’t an indictment on his play; he and Brooks Orpik have been a dependable pair for Washington. But the team has also wanted to get Chorney occasional playing time and since Schmidt doesn’t play on any special teams, he was the one replaced.
“You’ve just got to be happy for the guys who go in no matter what,” Schmidt said. “At the end of the year, we’re all fighting for one goal, and that’s just kind of the way you see it. You know, personally, you never want to get taken out. Everybody will tell you that. But sometimes, it just happens.”
The Capitals had an optional skate on Wednesday morning, so any other changes to the lineup won’t be evident until warmups.