When the Washington Capitals fell behind 3-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the playoffs, Caps head coach Barry Trotz tried something unusual, putting the slumping but frenzied Andre Burakovsky on the first line while demoting Alex Ovechkin to the third unit, where he skated alongside Lars Eller and Tom Wilson.
Last Thursday, when Trotz made the move, the coach expressed his displeasure with how Ovechkin and company were playing, but insisted Ovi would double shift with the Capitals playing seven defenseman and 11 forwards.
“Bottom line is we’re going to need him to be really good,” Trotz said of Ovechkin at the time. Burakovsky responded with three goals and an assist over the next two games. Ovi added a goal of his own.
In Game Seven, in perhaps the biggest game of Ovechkin’s career, Trotz did not double-shift the Russian sniper. Instead, Ovechkin finished with the seventh-lowest ice time among Capitals forwards. Marcus Johansson seemed to pick up the bulk of the extra shifts. The Capitals lost 2-0.
Trotz defended his player deployment after the game. Over 24 shifts, Ovechkin played just over 15 minutes at even strength, with over three minutes spent on the man advantage. The 31-year-old Capitals captain had eight shot attempts, four of which made it on goal. Ovechkin finished with 18:22 of time on ice. He was on the ice for both of Pittsburgh’s goals.
“He doesn’t kill penalties,” Trotz explained when pressed on the matter. “Most of our top guys were in that 19- to 20-minute range.”
Except, of course, Ovechkin, who has never made it past the second round. He had yet another chance on Wednesday night, but Washington came up short. His head coach wouldn’t touch the question when asked about Ovi’s playoff failures.
“We win and lose as a team,” said Trotz. “Emotionally right now I don’t want to answer that question at all.”
Headline photo: Patrick Smith
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