Social Icons

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Benching Ovechkin

Everyone knows that Alexander Ovechkin is a top tier player in the NHL and arguably one of the top 5 players in the world. Normally when you have a player with the skill sets like Ovechkin you want him on the ice the majority of the night right? Not in Washington! Since Dale Hunter took over the coaching job for the Capitals he has given Ovi a back seat role and surprisingly the Capitals are winning!

Hunter's benching of his big players (Semin, Backstrom, Ovechkin) has gotten a lot of attention in the media. Now normally this works for a few games, then the team starts to lose and the coach freaks out and goes back to playing his stars, but that won't happen with Hunter. A part from the fact that Hunter has quite a backbone, he really doesn't care if he loses his coaching job with the Capitals and that's due to his lifetime position in the OHL. Hunter is the co-owner of the London Knights major junior hockey club, where he coached the team for 11 seasons before getting the call to come in to Washington. So unlike the majority of NHL coaches who really don't want to lose their jobs and be out of work for a couple seasons, Dale Hunter has his job already set for him back with the Knights.
Anytime you have a coach that isn't really afraid of getting fired (or could walk away on their own at the end of a season) it's a Catch-22 scenerio. They can light a fire under their star players and get them playing well or things can go completely down hill and the players can just quit on the coach.

Most coaches wouldn't dream about benching Ovechkin or cutting back his ice time, but that's what Hunter is doing in Washington with Ovechkin playing just 13:36 in the last game his all time lowest for a playoff ice game. It's even more rare when a role player like Jay Beagle plays 19:36 and has 10 more shifts than your superstar! But the Capitals are winning and maybe that's just what they need to win playoff games, they are 6-2 in the playoffs when the great 8 plays less than 20 minutes a night, so if it's helping them win who cares?

The Capitals have failed to reach the 3rd round of the playoffs in the last 4 seasons, in each of those past years Ovechkin was averaging 23-25 minutes a night. Dale Hunter was brought in to change their playoff luck and what better way to do that then completely changing Ovechkin's role and ice time? Why stop at just Ovechkin's ice time, Backstrom played just 16:18 in the last game while Semin played a career low 12:27. But perhaps the most remarkable thing to come out of all this reduced ice time, is the fact Dale Hunter is turning Ovechkin into a team player. If you look at the captains reaction after teammate Jay Beagle scored the other night you can see that he is starting to really get happy for his teammates when they have success as well. Sure he wants more ice time (If he didn't there would be a problem) but right now he's playing a team game.

Most people remember the Capitals playoffs of late being barn burner type of games where 5 goals are scored and you win 5-4 or 7-5 but now the Capitals are starting to play the close one goal games which secretly Hunter prefers. He likes to keep the game at 0-0 for as long as possible and play for the one shot win! Which is why players like Ovechkin and Semin are seeing so little ice time, he doesn't trust them to play his style of close knit hockey!

Who knows if Hunter will return next season as the coach of the Washington Capitals, a large part of that will be based on whether he really wants to stay at the NHL with the divas or go back to the OHL where he can do whatever he wants and not be questioned. But one thing's for sure he's doing things his way, whether the Capitals win or lose he's making sure it's done his way! But if the Capitals wind up losing to the Rangers (I think they will) then it will be interesting to see what old Hunter has to say about his "benching" Ovechkin strategy!

No comments:

Post a Comment