Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Hunter's Toolbox

If everyone has to talk about Alex Ovechkin's ice time in game two, then why not us? There is a method to head coach Dale Hunter's madness, even if the press corps can not seem to see it. The best analogy I could come up with is to put it in pure man terms and talk about tools.

No, not talking about Sean Avery. Tools, like in a tool box. Just like we wouldn't use a hammer on a bolt or use a wrench as a level, Hunter does not see any reason putting out Ovechkin when the situation does not warrant it. Per Wash Post Mike Wise:
“Dale, anybody who’s following our team, you see he’s coaching the situations,” said Mike Knuble, who scored the game’s first goal Monday night on a pretty tic-tac-toe play. “He’s playing certain guys. If we’re down a goal, he’s going to be our main guy. He’s going every other shift.

“If we’re up a goal, then Dale tends to lean on other guys. That’s the way it is. I guess they can talk about it this summer after the season and figure it out. For now it’s working and we’re going to run with it.”
Hunter will use Ovechkin when the situation best fits his need for Ovechkin. If the Caps are down a goal or two, Ovi gets more than enough ice time. But if the Capitals are ahead, Hunter will rely on his more defensive players to pick up the work load.
No one really seems to have an issue with it except the press. Both New York and Washington media are trying to figure it all out. It is not mite hockey where everyone gets even ice time and a chance to play, it is the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs, and teams, coaches and players will do what they feel needs to be done to win. If that means putting a few talents on the bench a little longer, than that what it means. It's working for the Caps.

What Hunter has decided is to put match ups against conventional thought. It accomplishes two things for the Caps' bench boss. If the Capitals have the lead and on the road, it is a safer play to have your dependable defensive players on the ice when you have the last change. The Caps will defend that lead with the players who are defensively minded, and thus far it has worked. When the Rangers can react to whatever the Caps put on the ice, Hunter goes for safe rather than risk.

The second thing it accomplishes, his star offensive players are fresher later in the game/series. Ovechkin can wear himself out running around and hitting, which sort of worked against the Bruins. But against the Rangers, it is more important for him to be fresh as the game and series wears on.

Saving your offensive players until the end maybe the genius of the idea of keeping Ovi benched. If he is worn down from heavy minutes through the game, he doesn't have that extra jump, can't get his shot on point and turns the puck over. But a fresh Ovi can blow by tired legs on the other team's defense, catch the other team flat footed.

Another side perk, Hunter also keeps the Rangers from getting the match ups they ultimately wanted. Keeping their lines off kilter, Hunter can put Ovechkin on against a tired defensive pair, or create havoc with the opposition lineups. If he feels his team has strong momentum he can put him out there to jump on the other team's misfortunes.

Ovechkin didn't miss his power play time. He would scored just four seconds into a power play that proved to be the game winner. That is Hunter's strategy. Keep the other guys guessing. It apparently works for the media as well.

Caps Notes:
  • Caps have recalled Dany Sabourin, Cody Eakin and Sean Collins have been recalled by the Capitals now that the Hershey Bears have been eliminated from the Calder Cup playoffs.
  • Top Caps' prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov has agreed to a two year deal to stay in the KHL. Many believe he is staying with his KHL team so he can play in the 2014 Winter Olympics since there is no deal at present for NHL players to participate.
  • The Capitals took the day off and offered an optional practice for players who have been healthy scratches and for the call ups to get some ice time.

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