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.