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Ovechkin's role in Hunter's decision

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Ovechkin's role in Hunter's decision

It has become a popular notion that whenever a coach of the Washington Capitals is removed, his dismissal is covered with Alex Ovechkins finger prints.

Fair or unfair, it happened with Glen Hanlon, then Bruce Boudreau and now Dale Hunter.

But is it true?

When you factor in Hunter's agreement to coach the Capitals for just one year and his gravitational pull toward his family-run businesses in London, Ontario, it would seem Ovechkin had little to do with his decision to walk away from the only NHL head coaching job he'll ever have.

But with a new coach yet to be named, it's worth examining the six-month relationship Ovechkin had with Hunter during his brief and occasionally stormy tenure in D.C.

It doesnt matter if I like it or not, because hes my coach and I have to listen, Ovechkin said when asked of his ability to adapt to less ice time under Hunter. He said, You have to be a plumber, so I was a plumber.

Ovechkin is not paid to be a plumber. He has nine years and nearly 86 million remaining on the contract he signed four years ago. Thats serious money for a player who finished the regular season well below his career averages with 38 goals, 27 assists and a minus-8 rating.

Under Boudreau and Hunter, Ovechkin averaged 19:51 of ice time during the regular season, well below his career average of more than 22 minutes. And if you take away the Capitals triple overtime loss to the Rangers in Game 4, he averaged less than 19 minutes in the playoffs, recording five goals and four assists and a minus-2 rating in 14 games.

And if you break it down into playoff wins and losses, Ovechkin averaged more than 19 minutes of ice time in games the Capitals won and less than 15 minutes in games they lost, excluding the triple overtime defeat.

He treat me like a soldier, Ovechkin told Comcast SportsNets Jill Sorenson.

If I play 20 minutes and the next game I only play 12 minutes I have to suck it up. If somebody like Jay Beagle is going to get 25 minutes of course Im not going to be happy. But I have to suck it up because its for the team.

According to several players, Ovechkins acceptance of his reduced role on the Capitals was a slow and sometimes painful one. There were cold stares and locker room yelling matches.

I dont know how to explain better, Ovechkin said. Sometimes you dont have to be jealous. I dont want to say it was like a jealous situation for us. Sometimes you just have to be a group together.

I dont want to say persons, I dont want to say situations, but sometimes you just know. Some guys, if you didnt play well they just look at you. You can see it, I can see it, somebody else going to see it. Thats not the way were going to win.

Through it all and Hunter was unyielding in his demands on the Capitals 26-year-old captain, keeping him on the bench in games the Capitals were leading and double shifting him in games they were losing.

Of course, I was sometimes mad about playing minimum minutes in the game and I know I can do better job if I was out there, Ovechkin said. But you have to suck it up and do what you have to do.

Hunter said he tried to explain his rationale to Ovechkin, saying he could do more for the Capitals than be on the ice for just as many goals against as goals for.

Definitely we had player-coach talks, like Dont put pressure on yourself, its a team a game out there and we need everyone to play, Hunter said.

Following Saturday nights Game 7 loss to the Rangers in New York, Hunter was asked to assess the play of Ovechkin. His terse response was, He was good.

Nothing more, nothing less.

Obviously, he didnt have the best season in points, teammate Nicklas Backstrom said. But he was blocking shots and playing good defensively and I really think he grew.

Defenseman Roman Hamrlik agreed.

We all learned in the playoffs that when youre up a goal or two you need more forwards who play better defense, Hamrlik said. I think he learned that and he scored huge goals for us. But if were losing by a goal he needs to be on the ice and make something happen.

The one thing I learned about Ovechkin is that he is hard working and he hates losing. He wants to win and hes a winner. He gives everything on the ice. There have been some situations where hes not happy. But I wasnt happy when I was a healthy scratch. But Im not looking back, Im looking forward. I think hes a good leader. He works hard every shift and thats positive.

Ovechkin said the 2011-12 Capitals molded themselves into the most tightly-knit team he has been a part of since arriving in Washington seven years ago. Whether that continues will depend largely on the relationship he forges with the new coach of the Capitals, his fourth.

Im sure were going to talk about the whole ice time situation, Ovechkin said. I hope were going to have a connection.

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With Burakovsky out, is Chandler Stephenson the next man up?

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With Burakovsky out, is Chandler Stephenson the next man up?

With Andre Burakovsky out for the remainder of the first round at least, someone will have to replace him in the top six. Originally, it looked like Jakub Vrana was the man for the job. Based on Game 4, however, it now looks like Chandler Stephenson is the "next man up" for the Caps.

While Vrana may have top-six skill and a high ceiling, it was Stephenson who stepped into the second-line role on Thursday playing alongside Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. Stephenson finished with two shots on goal in 17:28 of ice time. Vrana, meanwhile, played for only 6:40.

On Friday, Barry Trotz praised Stephenson's hockey IQ for allowing him to adjust to the top-six in a complementary role.

"[Stephenson's] an intelligent player," Trotz said. "He played with [Backstrom] a lot [Thursday]. If you talk with the real top-end guys, he has the ability to think like a top-end guy in terms of play with them. He’s a very intelligent player. He skates extremely well. He’s got some strength to his game. He can complement people. I think his ability to play those different roles and his hockey IQ when you play with those skill guys, he plays more of a give-and-go game than an individual game. When you play with those high skill guys, you’re able to compliment them very well."

Stephenson has spent the majority of the season on the fourth line. He was drafted as a natural center, but has played primarily wing since coming to the NHL. The ability to play both positions gives Stephenson more versatility than most forwards which Trotz credits for helping him see the game so well.

"The great thing about Chandler is he’s played multiple positions over the years. I think it’s allowed him to play a fourth-line role and with high-skill guys. At center-ice, you distribute the puck a little more.  He’s turning into a well-rounded player for us."

On the surface, having Stephenson on the fourth line over Vrana makes little sense. Vrana is highly skilled and has great speed, but he is also prone to giving up turnovers and his production can be inconsistent. Trotz has clearly put a premium on responsible play this postseason which gives Stephenson the edge.

But Game 4 was only one game. If you are going to get top-six minutes, Stephenson will be expected to produce offensively as well. Despite the limited ice time he has gotten, Vrana has shown he can have a major impact on games. In Game 1, he set up the team's only 5-on-5 goal and drew a penalty. In Game 3, he drew two penalties in less than two minutes, giving Washington a two-man advantage.

Stephenson had a fantastic game in Game 4 when he was given the chance to play in the top-six. The next step will be finding a way to have a bigger impact on the game.

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Game 5 Capitals vs. Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

Game 5 Capitals vs. Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

Alex Ovechkin said the Caps would return to Washington with a tied series. The Caps captain is a man of his word as the Caps won both Game 3 and Game 4 to even up the series at two games apiece.

John Tortorella had no answers after seeing his Columbus Blue Jackets fall in Game 4, but he will have to figure things out quickly as the series shifts back to Washington for a pivotal Game 5.

The Caps return home with two straight wins and all the momentum. There's just one problem: No one seemingly can win at home.

What: Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Round 1, Game 5

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 3:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 5 will be broadcast on NBC.

Live Stream: You can watch Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 5 on NBC Sports' live stream page.

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

The Capitals take on the Blue Jackets in Game 5 on Saturday, April 21 at 3:00 p.m. ET in Washington. The series is tied 2-2.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME ON?

Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 5 will be broadcast on NBC. Coverage kicks off on NBC Sports Washington with Capitals FaceOff at 2:00 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 2:30 p.m. Tune back to NBC Sports Washington after the game for Caps Extra and Caps Overtime at 6:00 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

2:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
2:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
3:00 p.m. — Capitals vs. Blue Jackets on NBC
5:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
6:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

Capitals-Blue Jackets Game 5 is available to stream live here through the NBC Sports live stream page.

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

Here are the Caps' projected lines:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Chandler Stephenson - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly- Lars Eller - Devante Smith-Pelly
Jakub Vrana -  Jay Beagle - Alex Chiasson

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos

Braden Holtby with Philipp Grubauer as backup.

Scratches: Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky (upper-body), Shane Gerisch, Madison Bowey, Jakub Jerabek

CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

SEE THE CAPITALS VS. BLUE JACKETS FULL SERIES SCHEDULE HERE

CAPITALS SCHEDULE