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Examining Ovechkin's ice time

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Examining Ovechkin's ice time

With Dale Hunter there are not a lot of gray areas when it comes to the way he uses Alex Ovechkin.

Simply put, when the Caps are winning, Ovechkin plays less. When theyre losing, he plays more.

Alex knows that, Caps winger Troy Brouwer said on Tuesday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, and he has to accept that.

On Monday night, Ovechkin logged a season-low 13:36 of ice time, recorded a game-high seven shots, delivered two hits, blocked one shot and produced the game-winning goal in a 3-2 victory that evened the Caps best-of-seven series with the Rangers at 1-1.

Yet afterward it was hard not to notice that Ovechkins ice time was his lowest ever for a game in which he was not injured or ejected.

On Tuesday, a few of the Capitals addressed the issue rather defiantly, saying everyone on the team accepts their roles, no matter what is being asked from Hunter.

Ice time is not something we notice, defenseman Karl Alzner said. We dont go down the sheet at the end of a game and say, How much did Ovi play? Its just not something we do. Its too bad thats the topic of conversation after we just won a big game.

Really, the issue goes far beyond Monday nights game. The real issue is Ovechkins willingness to accept the way he is being used by Hunter. If Ovechkin can embrace his limited role with the Capitals especially in games they grab an early lead Hunter may be willing to remain as coach of the Capitals beyond this spring.

If not, well, thats a question that likely will answer itself.

For his part, Ovechkin said all the right things following Monday nights win. Does it frustrate him that hes not playing more? Absolutely. But Ovechkin has repeatedly said that as long as the Caps are winning, he is not concerned about his minutes.

You know he wants to play more and hes frustrated at not playing 20 minutes, Alzner said. But he doesnt care. He wants to win that game. He played 13 minutes and went out and scored the most important goal of the game.

If guys are getting upset about ice time and thats all youre worried about youre not going to play good. Ive seen it happen to a lot of guys in the seven years Ive been playing. Its pretty obvious.

Alzner said Hunter goes by the oldest tenet in the coaching. He rewards players for their strong play and benches players who fall below the bar.

Just go out there and work hard and hell reward you, Alzner said. Hes a smart guy. Hes played. He knows when guys are going and not.

The Capitals have gotten as far as they have because of players ability to excel in clearly defined roles. When the Caps are trailing, Hunter has been known to double shift Ovechkin. When the Caps are leading, Ovechkin sits for long stretches while Jay Beagle, Matt Hendricks and Brouwer protect the lead.

Capitals defenseman John Carlson said the important thing is that Hunter remains consistent in the demands he places on his players.

Over the course of his five months as head coach of the Capitals Hunter has scratched Mike Knuble, Joel Ward, Jeff Halpern, Jay Beagle, Matthieu Perreault, Keith Aucoin, Roman Hamrlik, Jeff Schultz, Dmitry Orlov and John Erskine. But hes asked all but two of them Halpern and Orlov to contribute in the playoffs.

He wants the best out of everyone, said Capitals defenseman John Carlson. I think hes a fair coach and I think guys thrive on that.

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Key Caps questions: How will Samsonov look in his first season in North America?

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Scout Pruski

Key Caps questions: How will Samsonov look in his first season in North America?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals correspondent JJ Regan is here to help you through the offseason doldrums as he discusses key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: How will Ilya Samsonov play in his first season in North America?

What else is there to say about Samsonov's time in the KHL? In the limited action he saw playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk, he looked every bit the starting goalie the Caps hoped he would one day be when they drafted him in the first round of the 2015 draft. Now, finally, he is ready to start his North America career.

What makes the transition from Europe to North America difficult?

First, Samsonov is adjusting to a new country and a new language. Second, the workload in North America is much larger, even in practice.

"He probably saw more shots today than he saw in a month of practice in Russia and this was nothing," director of player development Steve Richmond said during development camp. "For me, that's the biggest thing for him is to learn how to practice in North America."

And then there's the rink size. The game is faster for goalies in North America because of the smaller rink. Scoring chances develop much more quickly and Samsonov will also be dealing with different angles. It also means dealing with a lot more traffic in front of the net. He is going to have to learn more how to track the puck through a screen and to react much more quickly.

I tried to watch Samsonov closely in development camp. His size definitely stood out. He takes up a lot of the net, but is still very athletic and very quick in and out of the butterfly. As big as he is, however, he seems to play very low to compensate for his size which leaves him vulnerable up high at times. He would make a handful of very good saves, then let in a soft one glove side or in the corners because he was playing too low.

Those areas of his game can be improved on with practice so long as you have the skill and Samsonov certainly has that.

Samsonov has been elite at every level he has played and there is no reason to think that won't continue in the AHL. Having said that, there is just too much he needs to adjust to expect him to be ready for the NHL at this point. He needs as much playing time as possible at the AHL level before he is ready. As long as that's where he spends the season, I expect him to put up similar numbers to the 2.31 GAA, .926 save percentage he managed last season in the KHL.

Other key Caps questions:

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Oddsmakers give three Capitals the chance to win MVP in 2018-19

Oddsmakers give three Capitals the chance to win MVP in 2018-19

There are no signs of Alex Ovechkin slowing down heading into his first season after winning a Stanley Cup. Bovada just released their latest odds for the Hart Memorial Trophy (the NHL’s Most Valuable Player Award) and Ovechkin was tied with the third-best odds to win in all of the NHL at 10/1.

He was joined by two other Washington Capitals, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov both at 50/1 odds. 

Here are all the odds for the top 11 players:

Connor McDavid          10/3
Sidney Crosby              13/2
Auston Matthews        10/1
Alex Ovechkin               10/1
Jon Tavares                   10/1
Taylor Hall                     15/1
Nikita Kucherov            15/1
Nathan MacKinnon      15/1
Mark Scheifele              15/1
Anze Kopitar                  18/1
Evgeni Malkin                18/1

The only two players ahead of ‘The Great 8’ are the 21-year-old McDavid and dreaded rival Crosby.

Even with the immense amount of alcohol that has been consumed in the past two months, Ovechkin is still commanding respect in Vegas. It is hard not to when he turns around these intense offseason workouts. At 32, Ovechkin led the NHL in scoring with 49 goals a year ago, the seventh such time he has done so. 

Already the 2018 Conn Smythe winner has three MVP trophies to his name (one more than Crosby) and there is no telling what to expect now that the 11-time All-Star has a Stanley Cup title. 

In his 11 years in the league, Backstrom has never received any votes for the Hart Memorial Trophy. Kuznetsov only has done so once and that was in the 2015-16 season. 

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