ARLINGTON, Va. — Tired of rolling over the NHL in the regular season and falling short in the playoffs, the Washington Capitals went to great lengths to make sure their best players won’t be tired this time around.
Alex Ovechkin saw the lowest ice time of his career, Nicklas Backstrom the lowest since his rookie year, and Braden Holtby played fewer minutes than he ever has as a starting goaltender in an 82-game season. Balancing out the minutes and workload was an organizational effort to gear up for the playoffs and give the stacked Capitals the best chance to finally lift the Stanley Cup.
“We tried different things,” Ovechkin said Tuesday. “I think right now we’re in better shape than we were last year, and mentally-wise, as well, because you can see we have four lines who can create and four lines who can be out there and get the job done, it doesn’t matter which situation.”
To prove the plan worked, the Capitals will have to get the job done against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round beginning Thursday and advance past the second round for the first time in the Ovechkin era. But two months before the Cup is handed out, there’s already evidence that Washington is primed to win its first Stanley Cup title.
After averaging 21 minutes, 18 seconds per game in his first 11 seasons, Ovechkin averaged 18:22 this season. His 1,506 total minutes were the fewest he’s played in an 82-game season, and yet he played in every game.
The Russian superstar had 14 points in his final 15 regular-season games and contributed with some big hits and plays that don’t show up on the scoresheet.
“The biggest thing is that he looks fresh, he looks fast and he looks like Alex,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “When he sets the tone and he’s saying, ‘OK, I’m here and you’re going to have to play against me all night,’ the guy on the other side is going: ‘Oh boy. He’s engaged and he’s going to be handful.’ And when he’s a handful, that’s really good for the Washington Capitals.”
BLACKHAWKS: Defenseman Michal Rozsival had surgery to repair facial fractures.
The team says Rozsival is expected to make a full recovery but did not say how long he will be out.
Rozsival, who wasn’t likely to be in the postseason lineup, was injured when Anaheim’s Nick Ritchie punched him during a game last week. Ritchie was suspended for two games without pay by the NHL.