Monday, May 14, 2012

Caps Coachless

Dale Hunter has stepped down from head coaching duties for the Washington Capitals. A move confirmed by general manager George McPhee. Not even 48 hours after the Caps' game seven loss to the New York Rangers, Hunter decides to leave a team that reinvented itself for him and his way of winning. Failing to get to the third round of the Stanley Cups playoffs now for a fifth straight year, the Capitals are now charged with the duty of finding a suitable bench boss to get them into the Eastern Conference Finals.

Hunter told reporters "it's time to go back to my family and the family business." He is set to return to his London Knights, an OHL team that Hunter and his family are heavily invested in.

McPhee, as did many pundits and fans, was not surprised by Hunter's sudden change in employment.

"We loved everything about Dale," McPhee said of Hunter's short stint as coach. "We were delighted he could come in and spend six months with us. He really taught the club the 'how' of winning."

Hunter failed to get the hapless Caps to the Conference finals by losing game seven at Madison Square Garden. His style of defense first was bought in, for the most part, by the entire team. Show sacrifice and dedication to the team is what he preached, whether it was a big goal, a blocked shot or a sparkling save. He was able to deal with some massive egos in a locker room that seemed to lose its way.

When asked if there was any part of the job he didn't like, Hunter looked at the reporters and smiled. "I love you guys."

Now McPhee will not only tie up loose contracts, fill voids and add to his team, but now he has to find a head coach to take them back to the playoffs and push the team to a championship.

Other news and notes from the last media day at Kettler:
  • Jay Beagle had a broken foot, the injury that kept him out of the final two games of the Rangers' series. Beagle will have surgery to repair the foot. When GMGM was asked which foot, the left or right? His answer "One of those two."
  • McPhee doesn't expect Caps' prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov to join the team next year. He resigned with his KHL team amid worries of a failed CBA and his want to play in Sochi 2012.
  • Nick Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin are leaving today to join their respective countries in the World Championships. 
  • Michal Neuvirth suffered a hip flexor injury at the end of the regular season. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

What Now?

The Washington Capitals struggled. They struggled where they were so powerful just two years ago. A lack of offense. You would think with a salary burden of just over $34 million in player salary just on forwards Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, Alex Semin, Brooks Laich, Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer and Jason Chimera. Little good it did them as the best they could do is 2.66 goals a game, and just over 2 goals a game average  the playoffs.

When Dale Hunter took over for the Capitals in November, he didn't give the offense free range like Bruce Boudreau had. Instead he took the stance that if the big guns weren't going to score then they better had been defensively sound in their own end. With the personnel he had to work with, it seemed a monumental task.

But it slipped them into the playoffs. That style helped the Caps pull up an unlikely upset of Boston, and nearly toppled the first place team in the East. They went toe to toe with the Eastern Conference two best teams and took them to the brink, one eliminated, the other eliminated them. But questions are still out there. Did general manager George McPhee flub getting a solid second line center? Could he have found better scoring when his team needed it the most?

Frankly, this team went from high expectations with their off season acquisitions, to a team in distress, to a team that barely made the playoffs, to being a goal or two shy of making it to the Conference Finals. It has been a rollercoaster ride for the team and its fans. But how can that change into a winning season, and getting the Capitals back to a Stanley Cup Contender.

Let's look at the possibilities of losing some names. Mike Knuble most likely will not be resigned. Alex Semin may not return, rumors still stirring he might join the KHL. Tomas Vokoun might jet now that the Capitals seemed set with two young warriors in net in Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth. Dennis Wideman (the only Capital that was at last year's all star game) most likely will walk.

Loose ends on the RFA front include Jay Beagle, Mathieu Perreault, Mike Green and John Carlson. All played an important part in the Caps' post season push, especially Beagle who was the hardest working player outside of Matt Hendricks for them.

The Capitals still need to find a solution for a second line center. McPhee failed to secure one in the off season, and even at the trade deadline. Even though his group exceeded expectations of a mostly failed season, they still came up short of the Conference Finals and hopes of a Cup contending team seem fleeting.

If those unrestricted free agents walk, the Caps lose a combined 214 points gained in the 11-12 regular season. That will be hard to replace if McPhee loses that talent with out bringing in some solid offense. If Hunter sticks around, then it will be offense that can succeed inside of that system. That might be the trickiest part of the off season for McPhee. If he is still around.

That Close, But That Far

Caps 1, Rangers 2 New York wins series 4-3
Game Summary - Event Summary 

(Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
Exactly what plagued the Washington Capitals in game seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinals is what plagued them all season long; lack of offense. It is probably why when Dale Hunter took over for the beleaguered Caps he went with a solid defensive style. But little good it did them in the biggest game of the season, where the Caps came up short in the post season. Again. With a loss to the New York Rangers 2-1.

It wasn't the best of starts for the Caps. They were forced on their heels early when the Rangers decided to use their speed early jumping on loose pucks and their forecheck was pressing the Caps defense and turning over pucks. It would lead to the first goal of the game when Carl Hagelin circled the net and found Cap killer Brad Richards open in the left circle. Richards slapped a shot that fooled young goaltender Braden Holtby making it 1-0 with the game just 1 minute and 32 seconds old.

Even though the goal happened early, the Rangers went to shut down mode. Still using their speed for some random forechecks, they mostly sat back and leaned on Henrik Lundqvist to come up big for them. And did he ever. When the Rangers faltered, his pad or glove or stick was there for the save. It frustrated the Capitals' talented forwards it played into the Rangers hands.

(Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
A flurry of offensive chances in the second period lead to some spectacular saves by Lundqvist, but that is all the Capitals could muster through two periods. It would actually take a Michael Del Zotto goal to get their offense going. After a lackluster change on the fly, the Caps were still in good defensive posture when Marion Gaborik put in a harmless shot on net, saved by Holtby. But Del Zotto would follow up the rebound untouched and put it past the 22 year old goaltender to make it 2-0.

Roman Hamrlik would have the answer just :38 seconds later. The Rangers sort of fell apart defensively as the Capitals made some good passes on a break up the ice. Brooks Laich found Hamrlik cutting into the slot and with Troy Brouwer parked in front, the chip shot found the back of the net. It cut the lead in half, but it would the Caps' high water mark in the 2012 post season.

The Caps tried to mount a late rally by pulling Holtby, but it just led to bumbling pucks and maybe one shot on net in the final seconds. The Rangers shut the Caps down offensively allowing them only 4 shots in the third period. No one is going to rally from behind with chances like that when they need it the most.

It was an incredibly tight series again for the Capitals. In fact, of the 14 games played, only one (a loss to the Rangers in game one 3-1) was decided by more than a goal. Live by the tight game, die by the tight game. The Caps collapse in game five could be the biggest reason they lost this series, but they were never out of it against the Rangers. It is hard to kill two kings in one post season.

Caps Notes:
  • The Caps have not won in this post season when they give up the first goal.
  • The Rangers are 5-0 in game sevens at MSG. Ruslan Fedotenko is now 6-0 in game sevens.
  • Jay Beagle missed his second straight game with a lower body injury. Jeff Halpern was again his replacement. 

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Let's Make It Seven

Capitals 2, Rangers 1 Series tied 3-3
Game Summary - Event Summary

(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
The Capitals made history with winning four straight games in the playoffs after a loss. They did it to force a game seven against the New York Rangers back at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night. Alex Ovechkin scored on the power play and Jason Chimera scored the insurance goal they needed as Braden Holtby shut the door with 30 saves helping the Caps beat the Rangers 2-1.

"Every game, we’ve had a chance to win," said Chimera who had the game winning goal to complete the historic bounce back the Caps seem to have this post season. "That’s a big thing. It’s hard to be upset about a game when we’ve been in every game. We haven’t put ourselves out of it. And Holtby came back and played a good game for us."

Ovechkin made good on his promise to play much better than his game five performance where he was held shotless. He would score a scorcher on the first power play of the game when Anton Stralman took a tripping call just over a minute in the first period.

"You can see how we start the hockey game," Ovi said of the Caps' good start. "We get the puck deep, finish our checks and move our legs. [We] got a penalty and scored a goal."

Just 15 seconds later, with some keen passing, the Rangers were too spread out and Ovechkin was alone at the top the slot. Nick Backstrom fed him the puck and he beat Lundqvist with the one timer and it set the Verizon faithful in to a frenzy. Moving Ovechkin to the slot on the power play proved to be a wise move by Dale Hunter.

"It’s just one of those changes we make," Caps' bench boss said. "We thought that Ovi, with his big shot, could get a shot off. On the play, one of their players fell and really left an opening and a shot from there by Ovi doesn’t miss very often."

The Capitals' jump on the New York Rangers early made the Broadway Blueshirts look like they had jet lag through the first period. They badly out shot the Rangers through most of the first period and had the jump they seemed to have misplaced in game 5. New York did weather most of the storm and even had a few chances themselves as the period wound down thanks to a couple of penalties on the Caps by Brooks Laich and Roman Hamrlik. The Rangers would eventually out shoot the Caps 11 to 9 by the first period's end.

"I thought we regrouped in the first period," Ranger's head coach John Tortorella said to reporters. "It’s not the way we wanted to start. As we got going in the first period. I thought we regrouped."

The second Capitals goal was a bit flukey, but the Caps had worked hard to get that chance. Alex Semin played the puck behind the Rangers net and worked it around to the half boards right of Henrik Lundqvist. He turned to shot it on net, but it was blocked and the puck skittered to the other half boards where John Carlson quickly shot the loose puck on net. It went between a Ranger defender, off Nick Backstrom's foot and drifted from left to right in front of Lundqvist to an open Chimera. Chims just tapped the puck into the net giving him his fourth goal of these playoffs. 

The Caps would keep up their stingy defensive play in the second period, but Jeff Halpern (in the lineup as a replacement for last minute scratch Jay Beagle) missed a stick check and was called for the double minor giving the Rangers 4 minutes with the extra man advantage.

"It’s one of those accidental things again," Hunter said of the second double minor in as many games. "It starts with your goalie – [Holtby] was sound and penalty killers sacrificed, blocked shots, worked their tails off and got the job done."

It was the best PK the Caps had against New York this series as they held their foes to just three shots on net. The Caps, while gaining momentum from killing off all four minutes, could not score as Lundqvist seemed to have an answer for every shot after that.

More great penalty killing would have to come for the Capitals in the third period when Mike Green sent a puck flying over the glass for a delay of game call early in the frame. Troy Brouwer and Matt Hendricks, both brilliant for the Capitals on the Halpern double minor were equally as good killing off that chance for the Rangers. Brooks Laich and Carlson both even had shots on net shorthanded. The Caps went into shut down mode after that and their offensive production tailed off. Of the four shots total they had in the third period, two of them were off the penalty kill.

Holtby lived up to his hype of a rebounding goalie after a loss and he is now 6-0 in the playoffs following a loss. One save shy of a 31 shutout bid, he turned away the first 30 with some sound, solid netminding. When a Ranger shot hit him, Holtby played like he had puck Velcro on giving little or no rebounds for the Rangers to clean up in front of him. He was calm, square to the shooter. Stopping deflected pucks, screen shots and some difficult fluke shots that the Rangers threw at the 22 year old goaltender. 

The Rangers pressed their offensive muscle in the third and John Tortorella pulled his goaltender with well over two minutes left to play. The plan seemed to fizzle, but the Rangers were able to get a late goal to cut the Capitals' lead to 2-1. They crowded the net with two Blueshirts and the point shot had eyes as it deflected in off of Carlson's body, past Holtby to ruin his shutout bid.

"It felt like we were not really close until the last 20 seconds," Ranger netminder Lundqvist said. "We just have to go back home now and regroup and save all the energy we have left and play our best game of the playoffs here, at home."

The Caps force a game seven and get a second chance to get that important road win. This time to win the series. As long as they continue to move their feet and win the chases to loose pucks like they did tonight, they should be sitting pretty in yet another close tight game seven this post season.

Caps Notes:
  • Jay Beagle was a last minute scratch, he was half dressed before he got the news that he would sit out. His absence is due to an undisclosed injury. Jeff Halpern who took his spot was a -1, had one shot, and won 54% of his draws (7 of 13). It was his first game since March 23rd, his first playoff game with the Capitals since April 20, 2003 in a 2-1 loss to Tampa Bay.
  • Alex Ovechkin's goal now ties him with Peter Bondra for a franchise best 30 goals in the post season. He had one of the most entertaining non-goals when he brought the puck in the offensive zone and was forced to the ice by Ranger defenseman Ryan McDonagh. Ovi fell, twisted on the ice maintaining possession of the puck with his hand, moving it back to his stick and getting a shot on net while on his butt.
  • The Capitals blocked 24 shots to the Rangers 6. They are 2-0 this post season when facing elimination. 12 of the 13 games the Caps have played in these playoffs have been decided by one goal.
  • Backstrom now has three points in his last two games (1g, 2a).

Monday, May 07, 2012

6 Seconds From A Win

Capitals 2, Rangers 3 OT Rangers lead series 3-2
Game Summary - Event Summary

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) 
That close, just 6.6 from going home with a series lead. But the Washington Capitals took a late double minor that was cost them the game as the New York Rangers tie the game to send it to overtime, and used the second part of the double minor in the extra frame to turn the tables on the Caps and gave themselves the 3 games to 2 advantage as the it shifts back to Washington.

It is a late night, and I would love to write out an entire recap, but that ain't happening. So let's just hit the high and low parts.

- Brooks Laich and John Carlson got the Caps goals. Carlson's goal was scored early in the third on the power play and was the winning goal until Brad Richards tied the game with just over 6 seconds left in the game.

- Let's be truthful, the Capitals had no business being in this game by the way they played in the first period. Having said that, the fact that they kept the Rangers to one goal through the first two periods. The Capitals had a much better second and parts of the third period, but it wasn't good enough for the win.

- Alex Ovechkin was held in check for most of the game. He did get an assist on Brook Laich goal, but it was off of a broken play. Ovechkin and Alex Semin showed signs of some greatness, but made poor choices with the puck when their opportunities arose. Ovechkin had a huge shot block late in the third period when they still had the lead.

- Troy Brouwer had a heck of a game. He had two assists, a +1, won 67% of his face offs, and two shots blocked. He was everywhere tonight, it seemed.

- Braden Holtby was outstanding, and the Caps did not give him enough goal support tonight for him to earn the win. He knocked down 35 shots but couldn't stop the last two, Richards goal in the third and Marc Staal's shot in overtime. What is amazing is Holtby's knack for making the hard saves look like no big deal. When he makes some of the saves that are pin-point from a Ranger core that has trouble finding their shots getting through to the goaltender at all, it is almost demoralizing they way he calmly gloves it or deflects it away.

- Dale Hunter might be dealing with one tired group of hockey players. Their lack of digging deep and finishing out the game, just shy of 6 seconds of taking the series lead themselves, almost proves that this is a war of attrition. It might be time to infuse some fresh legs with players like Dmitry Orlov, Matthieu Perreault and Cody Eakin into the line up. But there is not shame running with the horses that have finished the race in the quarterfinals either.

- If you wanted to pick a goat for game five, look no further than Joel Ward. It was a break down in discipline as Ward took the double minor late in the game. There was no need to pitch fork Carl Hagelin's stick and draw blood. It was a call the Referees had to make and it put the Capitals in an unfortunate position, on their heels for basically a free for all with an extra man for the Rangers. That was a tough thing for Ward to go through. The team was quick to come to his rescue.

"It was an accident," Dale Hunter told reporters. "Those are the breaks of hockey. It accidentally came up. It's just a hockey play."

The positive out of all of this, the Capitals have a crack on home ice to knot the series up at 3 games a piece. Then it is a 50/50 game back at Madison Square Garden. It is certainly not the easy route to go for the Caps, but what have they done this year to make it easy on themselves? 

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Young Guns Strike Again

Capitals 3, Rangers 2 Series tied 2-2
Game Summary - Event Summary

The big guns started firing in this series. Goals by Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom and Mike Green help to knot the series up at two games a piece with the New York Rangers with a 3-2 win in game four.

"Everybody has their roles and you’ve seen the guys blocking shots," Dale Hunter, Caps' head coach, told reporters on how his team won. "The big guns scored some big goals and the foot soldiers blocked shots. We played good defense."

Another tight game, another close score and the Washington Capitals feel right at home. The Caps started off with a great first period out shooting the Rangers 14 to 3. It would be a costly turnover by a rookie Chris Kreider as he tried to clear the zone. But his attempt was a picture perfect pass to a waiting Ovechkin who wasted no time shooting the puck on Ranger goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. The shot fooled King Henry and bounced off his glove and into the net. 

At times both teams made some mental errors, call it exhaustion from a triple overtime a couple of days before, or a long grueling grind it out game both teams were playing. But the Rangers took advantage of a misplayed puck in front of Braden Holtby early in the second period as they pressed the Caps in their own zone. Ovi half heartedly went for a block, missed and Brooks Laich mishandled the puck in front of Holtby while Artem Anisimov found the loose puck on his stick alone, he pulled it to his forehand and beat a sprawling Caps net minder to knot the game at 1-1.

The Rangers seem to have the momentum for most of that first part of the second period. They even got a hooking call on Joel Ward near the half way mark of the second period. But the Capitals' penalty kill was able stem the Ranger tide. It would take a hit to change momentum back to the Capitals, well... a hit and a goal.

A shift or two after the penalty kill, Backstrom went into the corner. Sensing a hit coming from Anisimov, Backstrom held up and delivered a hit of his own, flooring the Ranger forward to the ice. He passed the puck behind the net and found a soft spot opposite side of the net as Jason Chimera turned and looked to center the puck. Chimmers saw Backstrom and threw a fantastic pass threw a maze of Ranger defenders and Backstrom shot it high blocker side to regain the Caps' lead.

The Caps were buzzing, but it was short lived when Ovechkin left his feet during a hit on Dan Girardi. It stifled the home team's momentum. A miscommunication between defenders Denis Wideman and Jeff Schultz did recover a dumped in puck. Anisimov beat both to the loose biscuit, passed it to an open Marion Gaborik in front of the net and the game was tied at two.

After both teams shared chances in the third period, Backstrom nearly scoring on Lundqvist five hole on a 2 on 0 and the Rangers quick transition game nearly got them a goal, both teams tightened the defensive bolts. It looked as if the game would go into overtime with both teams stifling up the neutral zone.

(Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Carl Hagelin chopped John Carlson's stick from his hands with 6:15 left in the third period. The Caps power play would hit the ice for only the second time of the game. But they would make it count. Ryan Callahan tried to get the puck out for the Ranger penalty killers, but he took a mis-step and coughed up the puck to Wideman who shuffled the puck to an open Mike Green on the other point. Green, with his head up the whole way, blasted a shot through the shot blocker Ryan McDonagh and beat Lundqvist to give the Caps' their one goal lead back.

"Those two goals," Lundqvist said of the second and third goals scored by the Caps. "I didn’t see the puck so I was pretty much just guessing where it was going both the second and third. It’s unfortunate."

"Before he was injured a lot, we used to see that all the time," Backstrom said of Green's go ahead goal. "It’s great for him and it’s great to see him score a goal. It gives him confidence. Huge goal for us."

This time, they would keep that lead. The Capitals would bear down and tighten defensively blocking a flurry of shots late by the Ranger's point men. The Caps would finish the game out blocking the Rangers 26 to 7. Schultz himself gobbled up 9 shots and at one point in the second period, that was exactly half of the team's total.

Again, it was not a perfect game for the Capitals who were credited with 17 giveaways. At times the Caps looked dead tired against a Ranger forecheck that at times was really good. But the Capitals found away to over come their mistakes and the big guns have finally showed up. Alex Semin did not score, but he had 4 shots on net and some beauty opportunities on the power play. Matt Hendricks also had a solid game, no where near his performance in game three where he put on a hitting show, but he had a key block late in the game to preserve the lead. He also won all nine of his faceoffs.

The series is now tied at two games a piece. The way the Capitals are playing on the road, game 5 should be a winning pivotal game for them. Just like the Boston series, the Caps had an opportunity to take command of the series and did in game 5. 

Caps Notes:
  • Ovechkin scored his fourth goal of the postseason and his second in his last three games. It was the 29th goal of his playoff career and he now trails Peter Bondra by one goal for first all-time in Capitals playoff history. He now has 57 postseason points and ranks third all-time in Capitals history. 
  • Chimera assisted on Backstrom’s goal and now has five points (4 goals, 1 assist) in nine career playoff games against the Rangers.
  • Mike Knuble found himself crashing the net again and crashing into the opposing goaltender, but this time it was more his momentum and the Ranger defense forcing the Caps' forward into the net. The puck followed him into the crease, but after review the puck was no where close to being in the net.
  • The Rangers were 9-0-1 in afternoon games this season. Well... now 9-1-1.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

4 Hours, 34 Minutes Later...

Capitals 1, Rangers 2 3OT New York leads series 2-1
Game Summary - Event Summary

It would take three overtime periods, 95 combined shots, 105 combined hits, and the longest NHL game in nearly 41 years. Marion Gaborik would end the action with just 5:19 left in the third overtime gave the Rangers the series lead 2-1 and end the game with the same tally 2-1 over the Washington Capitals.

The Capitals came out with a fire in their belly in the first period. They were flying, out shooting the Rangers 13 to 10 and more chances on a New York team that was just weathering the storm. But the Capitals could not crack Henrik Lundqvist and fell behind in the second period when the Rangers got a power play. Ryan Callahan buried the loose puck in front as it bounced off of two Caps and caught Holtby out of position.

It did not take long for the Capitals to respond, John Carlson skated the puck into the Ranger zone and followed the bouncing puck until it settled on his stick. He wrist it past Lundqvist over his right blocker. But that was as much offense the Caps could muster. There was a keen chance for the Caps late in the second period when they had a three on one break. But Brooks Laich just ran out of room to get a quality shot off.

Alex Ovechkin nearly ended it when he hit the post. It would sound the horn and the crowd went nuts. But it was clear in the replay that the puck solidly hit the post. 

Matt Hendricks played his best player as a Washington Capital. He was a hitting machine, and nearly ended the game early in the first overtime with a thunderous hit on Ryan McDonagh then stole the puck and found Troy Brouwer in front of the net. But Brouwer's shot sailed high and wide of the top corner allowing the overtime period to carry on.

“It’s tough," Hendricks said of the emotional overtime game. "You invest a lot every night, no matter what, if it’s a 60-minute game or extended into overtime. When you extend into overtime you are investing more and more and you are putting everything you’ve got into it. Unfortunately, we didn’t win tonight, but we can’t let that bother us. We just need to get prepared for the next one.”

Hendricks deserved a better fate in this game, but he would end a -1, finished with a team high 11 hits, 6 shots on net, and was 71% in the face off dot. Not too shabby. He also had a great shot early in the second period, but the puck trickled wide behind Lundqvist.

(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
The goaltending was spectacular on both ends. Holtby and Lundqvist faced a much different game than in games one and two. In the previous games, shots were hard to come by. They were grinding, clogged up games. Game three was in contrast, fast skating, open play and it seemed to favor the Washington Capitals for most of the game. Holtby would finish with 47 saves, his counterpart finished with 45 stops.

Alex Semin played a great game two, nearly scorning in the open moments of the game. He would get an assist on Carlson's goal. But as the game wore on, he seemed to disappear in the play.

As much as the Rangers would like to think they have a strangle hold on the series, it is just one game. New York takes the series lead, but the Capitals have been here before. Nearly parallel to the series with Boston, the Caps were able to split the first games in Boston and back in Washington. The Caps will look to do the same in two days when both teams meet on Saturday at Verizon Center for game four.

“It’s a loss. It’s no different than any other one," Holtby said. "A hard fought battle. We will be ready for the next game. It was a good game.”

Cap Notes:
  • It was the fourth time the Capital franchise they have reached triple overtime.
  • Visitors are 13-6 in overtimes this playoff season.
  • Both teams have opted out of practices tomorrow.
  • The Capitals killed off two penalties in overtime, a tripping call on Semin in the first overtime and a high stick call on Mike Green in triple overtime. The Rangers were not called for penalties in any of the overtime periods.

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.