ARLINGTON, Va. -- One day after the coach decided not to use his star player in a situation he normally does, everyone with the Washington Capitals agreed the move was in line with a new philosophy and not something to cause alarm.
Bruce Boudreau had two chances to put Alex Ovechkin on the ice with the Capitals down by a goal in the final 90 seconds Tuesday night against the Anaheim Ducks, but he elected to go with players he believed were having better games. That was not something that normally happens in Washington, as Ovechkin is almost always on the ice in big situations.
"At the time, you don't have that much time to think. Like I said last night, I was playing a hunch," Boudreau said. "I've played a lot of other hunches in my time that haven't worked that nobody has asked me about. This one worked. Like I said, 99 percent of the time Alex is the first guy I'm looking at, but these guys were going pretty good."
There has been a general theme this season in Washington about more accountability from individual players after years of postseason failures. The general manager, George McPhee, stressed this during the summer with some of his key players. The coach and some of those players talked about it leading into the campaign.
As a result, Boudreau has shown more of a willingness to reward or restrict players depending on their performance in practices and games, but Tuesday night's move with Ovechkin could prove to be a much bigger deal than sitting someone else for an entire game.
"I hope the message has gotten clear from July till now, and I'm hoping we don't change that message and we're going to try to stay strong with it," Boudreau said. "I think that's what it is and that's the only way we're going to stay successful."
Ovechkin was one of the first players on the ice for practice Wednesday, and after the workout, he addressed the situation. It wasn't just that he was left on the bench in a critical situation, but also television cameras caught an exchange between him and Boudreau that Ovechkin clearly came away from unhappy.
Ovechkin openly admitted he was upset at that moment.
"Of course I want to be in this situation on the ice," Ovechkin said. "It doesn't matter who I say it [to] or what I said. It looked funny on TV. Right now it is big story, but it was just frustrating because I am a leader on the team and I want that kind of responsibility. Bruce put [Brooks Laich's] line out and they scored.
"It is one team, and it doesn't matter how good you are or who you are. We have to be on the same page."
Added Boudreau: "Alex understands and gets it. He said the same thing today that he said last night to the people that were listening. He's a great captain that way. He gets mad because he wants to play and he wants to compete. It is way dating back, but I remember Maurice Richard used to compete and get mad, but it was because he was so competitive, but at the same time the next day he wants to get better and show that yesterday was yesterday and let's get going toward tomorrow. I wouldn't have expected anything less from him."
Boudreau was criticized by a couple of former members of the team this offseason for not being willing to do exactly what he did Tuesday night -- reward role players with a chance in a critical spot when the stars weren't getting the job done.
"I think it is a good time of the year -- you're still in October, barely into November. If you want to hammer home a couple points, now is the time to do it. You're not going to try and make points in March and April -- you're going to make them in October and November." --Mike Knuble
While the line of Laich, Jason Chimera and Joel Ward had been responsible for two goals to that point, Boudreau could have also put Ovechkin on one of the points as a "defenseman" -- something he's done often in the past when his team trailed. It was clearly a combination of the team's third line playing well and Ovechkin's ineffectiveness in this one contest that led to the decision to sit him.
"Yeah, it was probably different than every other year he's been the coach here," veteran Mike Knuble said of Boudreau's decision. "It is the reflection of a deeper team. Probably if he didn't play certain guys a couple of years ago he was biting your nose off to spite your face a little bit, but now there are guys here who can grind and get goals. It was interesting how it worked out last night. It was a pretty interesting ending to the game -- we won 5-4 but there was a little more to it.
"You can talk about accountability all you want, but if you don't have the personnel -- you're not going to sit your stars when there is no one to come in behind them just to make a point all the time. We have better balance and some guys that can go. There's 12 forwards chomping at the bit to get out there and quite frankly could do the job."
Knuble also pointed out the timing was right for Boudreau to make such a bold maneuver.
"I think it is a good time of the year -- you're still in October, barely into November," Knuble said. "If you want to hammer home a couple points, now is the time to do it. You're not going to try and make points in March and April -- you're going to make them in October and November."
Not only was it surprising that Ovechkin didn't play in the final 3:11 of regulation before returning for a shift in overtime (during which he assisted on the game-winning goal), but his total ice time for the game was only 17:51. In previous seasons when the Capitals trailed for the majority of a game like they did against the Ducks, Ovechkin was almost guaranteed to play upwards of 22 -- and even 25 -- minutes as the Capitals scrambled to come back.
Boudreau would often try to find creative ways to get Ovechkin out there more in the final minutes, whether it was double-shifting him up front or putting him on "defense" to take longer shifts. Washington has fallen behind in each of the past three games, and Ovechkin's time on ice hasn't reached 19 minutes in any of them.
"I contemplated that too," Boudreau said of putting Ovechkin on the blue line. "There was a lot of different things to contemplate there. I liked the way [Mathieu] Perreault was playing. I liked the way [Marcus] Johansson was playing. It is usually when we're behind that there are a whole bunch of guys who aren't going so you have to double-shift Alex, but so far this year it hasn't been the case. I'm sure it is going to happen, but it just hasn't happened yet."