ovechkin defeats rangers, bad coaching

(photo by Clyde Caplan)

When it comes to playoff hockey, a win is a win.

So I fully realize that fans should be thankful when the Washington Capitals emerge victorious against the top-seeded New York Rangers 3-2 in Game 2 of their second-round series. But at the same time, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things this team could/should do better.

Blindly praising a win without looking at any potential problem areas is a recipe for disaster moving forward, and there are definitely aspects of this series the Caps are going to want to improve upon both teams head to our nation’s capital for the next two games.

For starters, the defensive pairing of Mike Green and Roman Hamrlik needs to either step up their collective game or coach Dale Hunter should seriously consider breaking up this duo.

Both players log a ton of minutes each night, which would be fine if they both weren’t off to such a poor start against the Rangers.

Maybe it’s because Green missed 50 games during the regular season and Hamrlik began playing professional hockey back in 1991 — the same year teammates Cody Eakin and Dmitri Orlov were born — but both defenders look a step slow through two games against New York.

Not only that, but their subpar performances are clearly affecting them psychologically as well. As frustration boils over because neither veteran is performing particularly well, they’ve both started to suffer from mental lapses which result in ill-advised penalties.

During the final stages of the second period of Game 2, Green was whistled for tripping after he chose to retaliate because he had been knocked to the ice on a hard, but clean hit.

Earlier in the middle frame, Hamrlik was whistled for holding because he apparently didn’t want to get hit when digging out a puck from behind the net, so he slowed down, allowed the Rangers player to get inside position and then he had no choice but to mug the opposing player.

Notice a pattern here? Hockey is a physical game. If you play for any length of time, you’re going to get hit. If that’s an issue, you’re in the wrong line of work.

While it’s trendy for Caps fans to rant and rave about defenseman Jeff Schultz, they should be much more concerned with the play of Green and Hamrlik. I’m just not sure Washington can win this series if this duo continues to play so poorly moving forward.

There’s also the issue of poorly-timed line changes. In the series opener, Green got caught trying to make a line change and the play resulted in a breakaway goal by forward Chris Kreider that ended up being the game winner for New York.

In Game 2, it was forward Brooks Laich who got caught with his pants down* as he tried to get off the ice during the final minute of the second period. Rangers forward Brad Richards capitalized on the play and suddenly the Rangers seized momentum heading into the third and final period of play.

*Metaphorically speaking. Simmer down ladies.

Of course, that goal came during four-on-four play, which was a troubling trend for Washington against the Boston Bruins, so that’s probably another area the Capitals will want to dedicate attention to during practice between now and Game 3. So yeah, there’s still plenty of work to be done for the good guys.

And yet, the biggest lingering issue hovering over the Capitals these days is involves the captain and the coach. Or more accurately — Hunter’s apparent lack of faith in superstar forward Alex Ovechkin.

I understand that Hunter wants to hold his players accountable — especially when there’s so little room for error in his defensive-oriented system that can go entire periods of play without producing a legitimate scoring chance.

But I can’t help but wonder if Hunter is going overboard with his apparent desire to minimize the impact of the face of the franchise.

Look, Ovechkin is probably never going to be confused for a lockdown defender and he’s probably never going to be considered as a defensive specialist. But that doesn’t mean he needs to spend the bulk of each game riding the bench.

If Hunter is concerned with Ovechkin’s play in the defensive zone and wants to put a different line out when the Capitals are preparing to take a face-off in their own end, that’s his prerogative.

What troubles me though, is how often the Caps are able to send out a fresh line for an offensive zone draw and Hunter willingly turns to anyone other than Ovechkin. The guy is a proven playoff performer and yet, Hunter almost goes out of his way to rely on anyone other than The Great 8.

Ovechkin logged just 13:36 minutes of playing time in Game 2, which is easily the lowest amount of playing time he’s ever seen in a playoff game during his distinguished career.*

*In fact, the last time Ovechkin had less playing time in any game was more than two years ago, when the two-time MVP played less than five minutes before being ejected for a devastating hit on Chicago’s Brian Campbell.

Fortunately for everyone involved, Ovechkin has remained remarkably composed during all of this. He continues to say all the right things about putting the team first and if the team is winning than nothing else matters.

And when he is on the ice, the 26-year-old has done his best to make up for lost time — firing a game-high seven shots on goal in just over 13 minutes of action. Oh, by the way, Ovechkin also scored the game winning goal just seconds after the sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden foolishly taunted because he wears No. 8 and there was eight minutes left in regulation.

Ovechkin isn’t the only big-name player seeing less playing time under Hunter, as Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin have also joined the club.

My concern in all of this is that goals are already hard to come by, and now you’re basically asking your team to win night in and night out without putting your best foot forward.

Dynamic players like Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin warrant a certain amount of playing time because they’re a big reason why the Capitals have become relevant during the “Rock the Red” era.

It’s bad enough that Hunter’s preferred style of play is equivalent to a football team kicking a field goal on the opening drive and then turning to your prevent defense in hopes of hanging on for three-and-a-half quarters to squeak out a 3-0 victory, but employing that philosophy without even considering your best players seems either foolish or downright stupid.

Seriously, the longer these playoffs go on, the more I can’t help but wonder if Hunter realizes every time his Caps have the lead they look like they’re killing an extended penalty?

Can we please work guys like Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin into the lineup a little more often so the role players aren’t asked to do too much. Jay Beagle has been a joy to watch during the postseason, but does he really warrant six more minutes of ice time than his $100-million teammate?

On second thought, don’t answer that, Dale.


  1. bob
    May 1, 2012 at 7:55 am

    Ovie got 7 shots, had enough gas in the tank to get the game winner….don’t think having him out there on every offensive draw, allowing ny to punish him with their big hitters, is necessary. It will be nice to have a healthy Alexander ovechkin for game 7 of the cup finals.
    You shouldn’t listen to closely to what the commentators say immediately after a goal. Laich, a winger, comming off the ice durring transistion play because he was gassed had little to nothing to do with that first ranger goal….the shooter wasn’t at the point was he? He was being covered (albeit poorly) by two caps wasn’t he?

  2. Constantine
    May 1, 2012 at 8:12 am

    I have to agree with your assessment regarding Green and Hamrlik. Green specifically, is playing with zero confidence at this point and it shows. There were numerous times where he just left me shaking my head — from the cross-ice passes in the d-zone, to getting frazzled every time someone makes contact with him. If I were the Rangers, I would be salivating at the prospect of facing that defensive pairing. It’s only a matter of time before it costs us a game or a series at this rate.

    That being said, I’m currently willing to overlook Ovechkin’s minutes. This appears to have the making of a long series, and the prospect of a fresh Ovie could pay off huge dividends down the line if he’s skating circles around everybody by game 5.

  3. Fingerman
    May 1, 2012 at 9:05 am

    Totally agree on the Ovechkin stuff. Something that’s being somewhat overlooked this morning in the aftermath of the win is that it’s not like barely playing Ovechkin when the Caps have a one-goal lead is necessarily working most of the time–even if they came up with the win in games 5 and 7 and game 2 last night The fact is, they gave up one or two-goal leads in all three of those games and had to rely on getting the lead back with late (or overtime goals) to win. Sure, Ovechkin isn’t the greatest defensive player, but it would be nice to actually attack the other team occasionally when you have a lead instead of, as you say, basically killing a penalty for the rest of the game after going up by a goal.

  4. luke
    May 1, 2012 at 9:09 am

    You know i have to disagree. In truth, mostly because we won, but still…

    The bottom line is;
    1)Ovechkin doesn’t score off the rush anywhere near as often as he used to…
    2)but his one-timer off a face-off or a slick cross-ice pass is still pretty money (i know, i know, let’s just say game 1 was “off” for everyone)
    3)He tries to rush the puck up the ice, but he doesn’t back off (good) defenders anymore like he used to, or create open ice, like he used to.
    4)Often a hard-working team can turn a good-poke-check into a sudden-dump-and-chase-good-board-work-throw-it-on-net-ugly-goal. New York is absolutely THAT team…

    Beagle is not a guy who gives up that poke-check, Ovechkin is.

    1)Under ten minutes left in a tied road game
    2)Power play face/off (<-nick cage style!) in the scoring zone
    3)Backstrom taking the face-off
    ^THAT is the time you want a well-rested and highly-motivated (thank you new yorkers) Ovechkin out there on the ice.

    Beagle is not a guy who scores that goal. Ovechkin is.

    Why NOT play people to their strengths?

    Let's not kid ourselves about contemporary sports: Ovechkin is paid to FILL SEATS and SELL JERSEYS during the regular season and hopefully win in the playoffs…

    Hunter is just paid to win.

    Which he did.

  5. luke
    May 1, 2012 at 9:17 am

    and Fingerman’s point about blowing leads is well-made.

    Except that the Capitals keep winning anyway.

    They are now 4-2 in their last six (and three of those wins were against a more-experienced (if not better) playoff team then New York.

    They haven’t lost back-to-back games in over five weeks and in that same span they managed to put together back-to-back wins three times.

    as Jason Chimera might say it. We need to…

    Accept that the Capitals keep winning anyway.

  6. Scott
    May 1, 2012 at 9:23 am

    You missed the most questionable coaching decision of all on the team. why is Dennis Wideman getting a jersey? he has been horrible in the playoffs. he doestn’t move anyone out of the crease. he doesn’t hit anyone. every time the oppisition scores he is on the ice. his -6 is the worst on the team, yet he still has played every game so far. could we get some Orlov love here?

  7. ExKiwi Krol
    May 1, 2012 at 10:14 am

    Schultz played the first Ranga$ goal poorly. As poor as Oliver Twist on a cloudy day. As poor as Mother Teresa after a snow storm. As poor as the worth of Kim Kardashian on TV. As poor as the Tasmanian Devil after a tornado. As poor as…..you get my drift.

  8. Bill
    May 1, 2012 at 10:25 am

    Great article. I think Hunter will take the PK posture over loose play in the opposite end. He’s trying to get his stars to play responsibly, establish the forecheck, and get to the net. We have too many situations where are stars fire it on net from the blue line and it’s either a) blocked out to neutral or b) a miss collected by the defense. End of forecheck.

    Ovechkin shows these traits more than anyone. He needs to work harder to get his shots through blocks and on net. If the Caps are going to put up 4+ goals a game, they need the defense to join the rush. The defense can’t join the rush if Ovechkin fires one off a shin pad that bounces back into the neutral zone to open up a breakaway (this happened at least once against Boston).

    He also tries to cut across from one circle to the other too often, and the D are ready for it. This usually happens immediately after gaining the zone. If Ovi can be counted on to turn it over 50% of the time right after gaining the zone (when the D is going for a change) it opens up way more opportunities for odd man breaks going the other way.

    Basically Ovechkin needs to simplify his play to get pucks on net once the forecheck is established. The best stat from yesterday’s game was that he had 7 shots on net out of 10 attempts. That means he’s either getting it through shin pads with remarkable consistency or he’s making the simpler play. If he can keep that up, Hunter will play him more. I’m optimistic that the dynamic will change as Ovi limits his risky plays.

  9. Eric
    May 1, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    I feel as if some people may have read this article and thought, Damn, its already in writing, so Dale Hunter will follow it? Lets not take this so literally. Point is, we need the Caps to play as a team. It is hard to do that when we have defense being the last people back when the Rangers are on a rush. Thats not going to happen when we pass it to the point and the Defense decide to take their eyes off the puck and miss it, giving the Rangers a break away (or even the guy fresh out of the penalty box a breakaway). Thats not going to happen when we have Defense a little scared of physical play so they give up positioning and end up wrapping their arms around the Ranger like he just got back from overseas. Thats not going to happen when Defense has a hissy fit due to a clean hit, and decides to go back to sandbox rules and kick the Rangers feet out from under him. It also wont happen when Defense has the height, and almost the size to be gritty and rough, and spends more time watching the play and getting hit people half his size. Does anyone see a trend here? Luckily, people like Brouwer and Beagle have been busting their asses down low in the D Zone, and trying to get it at least in the neutral zone. Otherwise, the Rangers would probably spend the whole game in the Offensive zone. So, Lets all sit back and look at it again. Are the Caps perfect? NO! Is there a lot of room for improvement? YES! Is what we are doing working? Possibly. But if we keep it up, we are going to be one sore/tired team. Basically, Everyone needs to try and step it up, and see what happens.

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