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Now it's Hunter's task to dole out Caps' minutes

by Corey Masisak
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Alex Ovechkin hasn't averaged less than 21 minutes per game of ice time in his career ... until this season.

One of Bruce Boudreau's edicts for the Washington Capitals this campaign was to play his star players less during the regular season to take advantage of the team's depth and keep everyone fresh. Well, Boudreau is no longer the coach of the Capitals.

Dale Hunter is, and he is now in charge of rationing minutes for a deep and talented (yet struggling) squad.

"Minutes are always judged by how well you play that game -- always that game," Hunter said. "It is a reward system here with ice time. If you deserve more, you're going to get more. Definitely, I like playing my star players, but it is one of those things where if the team is going right and everybody is firing on all cylinders, I'll roll four lines."

Hunter's previous job was coaching the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League. While he typically had one of the deepest and most talented rosters in the OHL, that is a league that is notorious for having the best players see upwards of 30 minutes of ice time.

How Hunter doles out minutes in the coming days and weeks will be worth monitoring. At the beginning of the season, Boudreau's plan seemed sound -- keep the big guns fresh for the games that matter in the postseason. But those big guns have not performed, and it is possible the reduction of ice time has played a role.

As for other changes to watch for, Hunter said there will be a few. The forward lines were not different Monday during his first practice, but he did move people around when working on the power play Tuesday morning.

Nicklas Backstrom, who leads the team with 18 assists and 25 points, was not on the top PP unit. Rookie defenseman Dmitry Orlov, he of the four career NHL games, was.

The top unit included Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Mike Knuble up front with Brooks Laich and Orlov on the points. The second unit included Backstrom, Marcus Johansson and either Jason Chimera or Troy Brouwer up front with John Carlson and Dennis Wideman on the points.

One of the staples of a Boudreau-run power play was typically either two left-handed shots up front or two righties -- it appears the top unit for Hunter's first game will include three right-handed shots.

"It is a fine line," Hunter said. "I changed a few things, but you can't make drastic changes because you have no time to practice it."
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