Over the course of the regular season, Barry Trotz relied heavily on his 4 forward lines and 3 defensive pairs to provide a balanced attack. Since the Capitals depth was so great this season, it was very easy for Trotz to just roll lines since each line could provide offense.
After Game 3 against the Maple Leafs on Monday night, questions arose about icetime distribution throughout the lineup. In Game 3, Alex Ovechkin played 15:08. The circumstances in that game told the story as to why Ovechkin did not get as much icetime. In the third period, the Capitals were on the penalty kill 3 times. Most Capitals fans are aware that Ovechkin is not featured on the penalty killing unit for the Capitals. The Capitals were also 0 for 3 on the powerplay in Game 3, so that also limited Ovechkin’s chances of being on the ice.
After Trotz was questioned about ice times between Games 3 and 4, he adjusted his strategy for Game 4. The Capitals relied more on their top 6 forwards in Game 4 and it certainly paid off. Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, and Evgeny Kuznetsov all saw 17+ minutes of icetime. Alex Ovechkin saw a slight bump in icetime as he finished with 16:31.
POWERPLAYS (OR LACK THEREOF)
The Capitals had just 1 powerplay in Game 4. Since they were only on the man advantage once, that impacted icetime of key players Alex Ovechkin and Kevin Shattenkirk. Shattenkirk finished with just 12:54 icetime in Game 4. To put things more into perspective, Brooks Orpik finished with 16:55 icetime. A lot of people will question why Orpik received more icetime than Shattenkirk. The simple answer is that Orpik had to penalty kill more than Kevin Shattenkirk had to run the Capitals top powerplay unit. The Leafs had 4 powerplay opportunities in this game. Nate Schmidt had to step up into a penalty killing role since Karl Alzner is on the shelf with an injury.
IS THERE A CAUSE FOR CONCERN?
There are certain situations for certain players on the ice. Typically, a coach will utilize his defensive minded players for penalty killing duties. In the same notion, a coach will utilize his best scorers on a powerplay unit.
If the Capitals were getting 5-10 powerplays per game, Alex Ovechkin’s icetime would be much higher. Since fellow linemates Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie are utilized on the penalty kill in addition to the powerplay, their icetimes naturally might be higher than Ovechkin’s icetime in games.
The idea behind rolling 4 lines is to try and prevent any of the lines from becoming fatigued and overworked. Trotz has a lot of faith and trust in his roster to produce offense from any of his 4 lines. He has shown faith in all his defensive pairs to go out and shut down other teams’ top players.
Special teams can affect icetimes for players. The Capitals have had to kill more penalties, and they have not had the man-advantage as much in this series. It is not a knock on Ovechkin’s play if he does not see the ice as much in certain situations. Good coaches know how to manage ice time and they know which player is best for certain situations.
The depth should pay off in the end for the Capitals if they make a long run to the Stanley Cup Final this season. It is important to keep players fresh during the 2-month long grind to the final. While I would love to see Ovechkin or Shattenkirk get a bump in icetime, I can understand the circumstances to where they may not see the ice as much. If the Capitals want to see Ovechkin take the ice more, they need to earn more powerplays in games.
By: George Foussekis