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Ovechkin's role in Hunter's decision


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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Tom Wilson does the little things in Capitals’ 3-2 overtime win at Colorado

Tom Wilson does the little things in Capitals’ 3-2 overtime win at Colorado

To call it a hit is generous. To call it a huge play is accurate. 

Capitals forward Tom Wilson backed into a loose puck along the boards in the defensive zone of Friday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. He waited for a hit sure to come from behind. 

Colin Wilson, the Avalanche center, moved in to dislodge the puck. Instead he got dislodged from gravity. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Tom Wilson, barely moving and braced for contact, used his own leverage to launch Colin Wilson into the air, arms and legs akimbo. 

By the time Colin Wilson crashed to the ice, Tom Wilson had chipped a blind backhand pass to center ice, where Alex Ovechkin stopped it with his skate, dropped it to teammate Nicklas Backstrom, who gave it back as they entered the offensive zone. Ovechkin crossed from left to right and ripped a shot past former teammate Philipp Grubauer in goal for Colorado. 

It was a wonderful pass from Backstrom, who put the Avalanche on their heels. Ovechkin’s shot was a bullet that left little chance for Grubauer. But make no mistake – it all started with Wilson, who was prepared to take a hit to make a play. It is those little things that the Capitals missed during Wilson’s 16-game suspension by the NHL. It was the little things that helped them to a 3-2 overtime victory.  

“[Wilson] brings so much energy to this group,” Backstrom said. “He’s everywhere out there. That’s what we need. He’s playing PK, he’s playing power plays, he’s doing everything. He’s a valuable guy in this group so we’re happy to have him back.”

The game-winning goal in overtime by Backstrom was a perfect example. Wilson took a drop pass from defenseman John Carlson 12 seconds into overtime with Washington on a 4-on-3 power play. That’s when he went to work. 

For six seconds Wilson and Avalanche center Carl Soderberg did battle along the right boards high in the offensive zone. Just as Wilson was knocked to the ice, he slipped a pass back to Backstrom alone at the point. 

With Soderberg on top of him and both out of the play, Wilson watched Backstrom take advantage of the extra space in what effectively became a 3-on-2. He passed to Carlson in the right faceoff circle and then got the puck back in the high slot and beat Grubauer blocker side for the win. That doesn’t happen without Wilson. 

“When you’re playing with good players, you just try and keep it simple, win your battles and they’ll do the rest,” Wilson said. “And that’s exactly what happened on both those plays. At the end there, I thought about throwing it across the ice a couple times, but I’m not that comfortable out there yet so just kind of ragged on the wall and waited. Nicky got open for me and made it easy, I just threw it over to him and it was in the back of the net.”  

The Ovechkin goal put Washington ahead 2-1 at 18:29 of the second period. The Backstrom winner came 22 seconds into overtime. Wilson, in his third game back after his original 20-game suspension was reduced by a neutral arbitrator, played a career-high 24 minutes, 24 seconds. He moved to the power play for 4:19 with T.J. Oshie out with an upper-body injury and contributed 1:35 on the penalty kill – a little less than usual. 

Wilson played on the PK for 5:23 in his first game back Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild. He scored a goal in that game, too, by driving the net hard and has been a jolt of energy for a team that was scuffling coming into a difficult four-game road trip. The Capitals are 2-1-0 with one game left Monday at the Montreal Canadiens. 
“Tom is one of those guys that was vocal in our room, vocal on the bench that we’re fully in control of that game still even though we gave up the late goal,” Washington coach Todd Reirden said. “But that’s a tough start [after the suspension], three in four, and then add in the altitude and the minutes that we’re counting on him playing because they aren’t easy minutes. And then obviously having to chase around that top line tonight from Colorado is no easy task. Just really happy with the fact that we got him back a little earlier than was originally set up for us. It’s been a good bounce for our team.” 


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5 reasons the Caps beat the Avalanche

5 reasons the Caps beat the Avalanche

A shorthanded Capitals team marched into Colorado and took a 3-2 overtime win over the Avalanche on Friday.

Here are five reasons the Caps won.

A big glove save

With no T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov or Braden Holtby, the Caps were a bit shorthanded heading into the game. After the Avalanche took a 1-0 lead just 68 seconds in, it felt like it could be a very long night for Washington.

It could have been if not for an early breakaway save by Pheonix Copley.

Soon after the goal, Nathan MacKinnon grabbed the puck on a breakaway. MacKinnon is one of the best offensive players in the league and not the guy you want to see going in alone on Copley on a breakaway.

Copley, however, flashed the glove and made the save to keep the game at 1-0.

One year ago to the day, the Caps lost 6-2 in Colorado. With the injuries Washington was dealing with, it’s not a stretch to think this game could have gone off the rails quickly had the Avalanche jumped out to a 2-0 lead.


The Caps struggled through the first period to get any real penetration on Colorado’s defense and were kept largely on the perimeter with very few high-danger opportunities. The Avalanche defense got a bit more porous in the second and Washington took advantage.

Travis Boyd collected the puck in the offensive zone below the goal line. As he skated along the wall, he found himself face-to-face with four Colorado players who were all just following the puck. As far as defense goes, that’s not an ideal situation. Boyd found a wide-open Chandler Stephenson on the cross-ice pass, Stephenson goes back left to Devante Smith-Pelly who had an empty net to shoot on to get the Caps on the board and tie the game at one.

Game speed

After six seasons in Washington, Philipp Grubauer has faced literally thousands of shots from Alex Ovechkin in practice. But he never faced one of those shots in a game until Friday. Those shots come off the stick a bit faster when it counts as Grubauer learned.

Nicklas Backstrom entered the offensive zone with the puck and backhanded it to Ovechkin. Backstrom kept driving to the net drawing the defense with him except for Tyson Barrie. Backstrom’s passed to the left, but Ovechkin collected it going right which caught Barrie flatfooted. Ovehckin easily skated around Barrie to find an open shooting lane, then snapped a shot past Grubauer to put the Caps up 2-1. Ovechkin’s celebration was almost instantaneous, he knew he had Grubauer beat.

A late penalty

The referees really put away the whistles in the third period. They even missed a clear high-stick to Dmitry Orlov that drew blood and should have been a double-minor. Colorado came back to tie the game, but Smith-Pelly finally drew a blatant holding penalty from Ian Cole with just over a minute left to go in regulation.

The Avalanche survived to force overtime, but Nicklas Backstrom scored the game-winner on the power play just 22 seconds in for the win.

Tom Wilson making a Tom Wilson play

Space is important in hockey. That’s what makes a four-on-three power play harder to cover than a five-on-four power play. You know what’s even better? A three-on-two.

The Caps entered overtime on a power play which gave them a four-on-three to start. Tom Wilson had the puck on the wall and took a hit from Carl Soderberg. He saw the hit coming and took it so he could make the pass to Backstrom. He won the board battle and the hit took Soderberg out of the play, giving the Caps a three-on-two in the offensive zone to work with. Backstrom passed to John Carlson who passed back to Backstrom. He had all day to fire the game-winner and it was all thanks to a tremendous play from Wilson that most people would not have noticed.