Trotz: Maple Leafs to get big­ger dose of Ovechkin

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY NORA PRINCIOTTI

TORONTO | The Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals and Toronto Maple Leafs have now played three games in their first-round play­off se­ries and, be­sides all hav­ing gone to over­time, all three end­ings have some­thing in com­mon: Alex Ovechkin has yet to be on the ice for a game-win­ner for ei­ther team.

“Just for­get it and move for­ward,” Ovechkin said, speak­ing gen­er­ally about the loss af­ter Mon­day night’s game. “Ob­vi­ously, we’re los­ing the se­ries, but it’s not over yet. I think we should win this game, but we make a cou­ple mis­takes and there was a cou­ple lucky bounces. We move for­ward.”

Ovechkin’s non­cha­lance mir­rors how he’s been used so far in the play­offs. Now down 2-1, the Cap­i­tals have yet to ask their star to take over a game for them.

Ovechkin was cred­ited with play­ing 15:08 Mon­day, the sec­ond-low­est to­tal time on ice of his 87-game play­off ca­reer. He was on ice for only 12:40 at even strength, ac­cord­ing to the off-ice of­fi­cials, less than six other for­wards: Justin Wil­liams, Nick­las Back­strom, Lars Eller, T.J. Oshie, Mar­cus Jo­hans­son and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

“That’s on me to get him the ice time,” Cap­i­tals coach Barry Trotz said Tues­day. “Some­times that’s sit­u­a­tional, some­times that’s the zone starts. So, his min­utes should be [up], I can get those up.”

As the Wash­ing­ton Post’s Is­abelle Khur­shudyan pointed out upon re­view­ing video, Ovechkin may have been short­changed on a few shifts by the of­fi­cial score­keep­ers. On one shift he clearly skated for longer than the five sec­onds he was cred­ited with.

Over­all, how­ever, it was still clear that Ovechkin didn’t carry a heavy load in the game,

some­thing Trotz said he needs to fix go­ing for­ward.

One thing Trotz pointed to is that Ovechkin has been play­ing “hard, qual­ity min­utes,” grap­pling with Leo Ko­marov, Mor­gan Rielly and Nikita Zait­sev — all of whom have tar­geted the big Rus­sian for the Leafs.

To be sure, not all min­utes are cre­ated equal. Ovechkin has been play­ing hard and well when he has been on the ice. He has scored in con­sec­u­tive games and his goal Mon­day night, a rocket that Toronto goal­tender Fred­erik An­der­sen had no chance of stop­ping, was vintage No. 8.

With no in­di­ca­tion any of that would change were Ovechkin used more heav­ily, the Cap­i­tals could prob­a­bly stand to lean on their top player go­ing for­ward. So far, Trotz has been us­ing Ovechkin sys­tem­at­i­cally, max­i­miz­ing his starts in the of­fen­sive zone and hid­ing his line from Aus­ton Matthews at times.

“There’s rhythms in the game, rhythms in the game where Matthews is com­ing out, those types of things, he’s go­ing to be in the of­fen­sive zone so that may be a Beagle start or some­thing like that,” Trotz said. “You try to get them [Ovechkin’s line] of­fen­sive starts just as he [Bab­cock] tries to do it with Matthews’ line so you know, we’ve got to get a few more of­fen­sive starts here and there too.”

Trotz may be more com­fort­able with the big-bod­ies on the Beagle line to han­dle Matthews down low than he is with sad­dling Nick­las Back­strom with the same task, but by opt­ing for that matchup, for ex­am­ple, he does sac­ri­fice the up­side of the Ovechkin-Back­stromT.J. Oshie line.

Ovechkin also doesn’t kill penal­ties, so he winds up play­ing less than his line­mates. Per­haps he would have got­ten more time in the piv­otal third pe­riod if the Cap­i­tals hadn’t sent four men to the box. Ovechkin wound up play­ing just 4:13 in the third Mon­day night.

“Some­times you have a bump-up line, you’re killing guys, penalty killers min­utes and that’s Back­strom and Oshie and you sort of miss a rep or two here or there but it wasn’t based on play,” Trotz said. “I thought Ovie was play­ing ter­rific and it’s on me to get him a lit­tle more ice time, no ques­tion.”

Ovechkin av­er­aged a ca­reer-low 18:22 min­utes on ice dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, an ad­just­ment in­tended to keep him fresh for a long post­sea­son run. Ovechkin played less min­utes than he did Mon­day night just once dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son — 13:54 on Feb. 9 against Detroit — beg­ging the ques­tion of what, ex­actly, the Cap­i­tals were sav­ing him for if not for these tight games in the play­offs.

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