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Alex Ovechkin will get more minutes for Capitals in Game 4

Coach Barry Trotz says it's 'on me' to increase captain's ice time against Maple Leafs

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

TORONTO -- With the Washington Capitals trailing the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 in the Eastern Conference First Round, coach Barry Trotz said he doesn't believe they need to make a lot of tactical and systematic adjustments heading into Game 4 of the best-of-7 series at Air Canada Centre on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, CSN-DC).

But Trotz acknowledged there's one obvious change he needs to make: Give Alex Ovechkin more ice time.

The left wing was credited with 15:08 of ice time, including 12:40 at even strength, in a 4-3 overtime loss in Game 3 on Monday. 

 

[RELATED: Complete Maple Leafs vs. Capitals series coverage]

 

"That's on me, to get him the ice time," Trotz said after an optional practice Tuesday. "Sometimes that's situational, sometimes that's the zone starts. Yeah, his minutes should be … I can get those up." 

Ovechkin's even-strength ice time ranked seventh among the Capitals' 12 forwards, ahead of fourth-liners Tom Wilson (10:43), Jay Beagle (10:42) and Daniel Winnik (9:40), and third-liners Brett Connolly (12:13) and Andre Burakovsky (12:02).

Ovechkin's linemates, Nicklas Backstrom (17:30 overall, 13:10 at even strength) and T.J. Oshie (18:37, 14:18), each played more than him, partially because they play on the penalty kill and Ovechkin does not. The Capitals were shorthanded three times in the third period and in overtime, which lasted 1:37 before Tyler Bozak scored the winning goal, which contributed to Ovechkin playing 4:13 after the second period.

"Sometimes you have a bump up a line," Trotz said. "You're killing penalty killers' minutes, and that's Backstrom and Oshie, and you sort of miss a rep or two here or there. It wasn't based on play. I thought Ovi was playing terrific. It's on me to get him a little more ice time, no question."

Ovechkin, whose 33 regular-season goals tied with Oshie for the Capitals lead, was not among the players to skate Tuesday and was not available for comment. His line with Backstrom and Oshie was dominant early in Game 3, with Backstrom scoring a 4-on-4 goal 2:43 into the first period and Ovechkin scoring on a one-timer from the top of the left circle during 5-on-5 play to give Washington a 2-0 lead at 4:49. 

Even with limited ice time, Ovechkin had a Capitals-high five shots on goal, seven shot attempts and four hits. One of the reasons Trotz trimmed his ice time to 18:21 per game during the regular season from 20:18 last season was to keep him fresh for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But Trotz has been intent on rolling four lines and has been spreading out the ice time in hope it will wear down the Maple Leafs over a long series. Ovechkin played 19:52 in the Capitals' 3-2 overtime victory in Game 1 and 24:35 in their 4-3 double overtime loss in Game 2. 

Video: TOR@WSH, Gm2: Ovechkin fires in PPG from the circle

"He's [playing] quality minutes right now," Trotz said. "Sometimes you look at minutes, sometimes they're overstated. You're out there 20 minutes, but they're not quality minutes. His minutes have been hard, quality minutes."

The Maple Leafs used the line of Leo Komarov, Nazem Kadri and Connor Brown against Ovechkin, Backstron and Oshie for much of the first three games, with a line of Auston Matthews centering Zach Hyman and William Nylander getting some time against them as Game 3 progressed. Komarov and Ovechkin have been going at it physically all series with Komarov knocking down Ovechkin with a big hit in the first period Monday.

Defensemen Nikita Zaitsev, Morgan Rielly and Roman Polak (before he sustained a season-ending lower-body injury in Game 2) also were physical with Ovechkin when they had the chance.

"I know him and Komarov have been going at it, and Zaitsev, and Rielly and all that," Trotz said. "So he's targeted, they're doing their job just as we're doing our job on their guys. Those minutes are usually there."

Although Trotz doesn't want to chase or run away from line matchups, he has used the line of Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Justin Williams against Matthews' line whenever he's been able and said situations sometimes influence when players play. For example, Trotz tries to get fourth-line center Jay Beagle out to take defensive-zone draws against Matthews. 

"There's rhythms in the game, rhythms in the game where Matthews is coming out or those type of things," Trotz said. "[Matthews] is going to be in the offensive zone, so that may be a Beagle start or something like that. You try to get [Ovechkin's line] offensive starts, just as [Toronto coach Mike Babcock] tries to do with Matthews' line. We've got to get a few more offensive starts here and there too."

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