Much was made of Alex Ovechkin’s playing time in Game 3 as the team’s captain and best offensive player registered only 15:08 of ice time in a game in which the Capitals ultimately lost.
Following the Game 3 loss, Barry Trotz took responsibility saying, “That’s on me to get him the ice time.”
Ovechkin’s playing time went up in Game 4, but only marginally with 16:31. This time, however, it was easier to explain. Ovechkin registered only 4:51 in the third period, lower than both the first and second. With the Caps leading heading into the final period, there was less opportunity to get the captain more ice time and instead it went to more of the shutdown forwards on the team. Jay Beagle, for example, played 5:10 in the third period.
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For the most part, Ovechkin’s ice time from Game 4 appears to be a non-story, but there are other players from Game 4 who got their minutes slashed and it seems to suggest they may have found themselves in Barry Trotz’s dog house.
Of the Caps’ six defensemen, no one saw less ice time than Kevin Shattenkirk who registered only 12:54. Not only is that the least he has played in a game this postseason, it is the least he has played in the entire 2016-17 season.
When asked about Shattenkirk on Thursday, Barry Trotz told the media that the defenseman was not dealing with an injury and that his reduced playing time was based on the fact that the Caps had only one power play for the game and that assistant coach Todd Reirden, who manages the defensemen, was using the different pairs based on getting the right matchups.
“Todd's back there,” Trotz said. “He wants the certain matchups. We talk about it before the game and he goes from there.”
Shattenkirk did not play particularly well in Game 3 so the fact that his playing time dropped to his lowest should raise eyebrows as it could suggest less trust in him.
But Shattenkirk had it good compared to Brett Connolly.
With a 2-1 series deficit heading into Game 4, Trotz elected to make a minor line change by bumping Tom Wilson from the fourth line to the third and moving Connolly down to the fourth. The result for the third line was great as Wilson scored twice and the line appeared to be reinvigorated. The same could not be said of the fourth line.
Daniel Winnik saw his ice time slashed to 6:37 in Game 4, while Connolly played only 4:26 for the entire game.
When asked why Connolly’s time was so low, Trotz said, “A little bit situational, a little bit, I felt that the way they were going in terms of the minutes, I just felt, I was going with the 10 or 11 guys we were going with.”
When in a playoff game the coach is essentially saying he felt more comfortable going with 10 or 11 guys rather than playing Connolly, that seems pretty damning.
Prior to the line change, the fourth line was seen as one of the team’s best shutdown lines. That, however, is not the specialty of Connolly who is more of a skilled type player.
So while switching Wilson and Connolly seemed to benefit the third line, the same could not be said of the fourth line that suddenly seemed to lack identity and the fourth line was underutilized as a result.
This begs the question, if Trotz can’t find even five minutes for Connolly, would he consider switching him out of the lineup completely?
“Obviously [Connolly’s] on the fourth line right now and he just didn't get enough time,” Trotz said. “He's ok with it. He understands that this time of year we're going to do what we have to do and he's just going to be out there preparing like he is and be ready if he gets the call.”