Alex Ovechkin is not only going to switch to right wing this season. For the first time in his NHL career, he’s going to be used on the penalty kill.
Speaking with reporters after directing power-play drills on Wednesday, Capitals coach Adam Oates said he would “absolutely” use Ovechkin on the penalty kill this season.
“He’s a smart hockey player and a lot of times penalty killers are smart guys,” Oates said. “You need execution, you need clears and you need guys that know what a power play will do.
“And he’s also a threatening player, so when a team’s power play is on the ice they know he’s out there. If we can get in their heads a little bit, that’s a great situation to be in.”
So if Ovechkin is such a threat as a penalty killer, why did he play only two minutes on the penalty kill all of last season under Bruce Boudreau and Dale Hunter, compared to 283 minutes on the power play?
“You’d’ have to ask the other coaches, but obviously, you don’t want him blocking shots and being hurt,” Oates said. “That’s the obvious answer. That’s a coach’s nightmare, but that’s part of the deal.”
The potential nightmare is having a player with nine years and $88 million remaining on his contract getting hit in the face with a slapshot.
But to his credit, Oates appears willing to give Ovechkin the same responsibilities in Washington as he and Peter DeBoer gave Ilya Kovalchuk in New Jersey, where the Devils coaching staff used the talented Russian winger in all areas of the game.
“Let’s say we take two penalties in a row,” Oates said. “I’ve got to get him on the ice. So he’s got to learn how to play in that situation. I also think it helps him.
“When you play penalty killing you learn little things that maybe will help him on the power play.
“If we have a lead and the team pulls their goalie, he’s gotta be out there and he’s gotta know how to play there. That’s an important time for our team.”
The bottom line in all of this is one word: Trust.
If you recall, Ovechkin blew a head gasket early last season when Boudreau did not play him in the final minute of a game in which the Caps were trailing the Anaheim Ducks by a goal.
You may also recall that Hunter refused to play Ovechkin down the stretch of games in which they held a lead.
So it is worth noting that when asked about Oates the other day, the first thing Ovechkin said was, “I just feel trust.”
Bottom line, Oates said he has to trust his captain in the final minute of a game.
“I have to,” he said. “So he’s gotta do the job.”