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Caps Questions: Should Alex Ovechkin Kill Penalties?

Pondering the use of Alex Ovechkin on the penalty kill...


As much as we are one big, happy Rink family, the shocking fact is that we don't always agree on everything about the Caps - so throughout the season we'll present mini-roundtables, with each of us weighing in on a pressing question or issue facing the team, a player or the League as a whole. Next up, exploring Alex Ovechkin 's penalty-killing potential.

Q: When asked this week whether he would try to use Alex Ovechkin on the penalty kill, Adam Oates said "absolutely". What do you think of AO on the PK?

Kareem: Selective use of Ovechkin on the penalty kill doesn’t bother me too much. If he’s losing focus in a game or Oates simply wants to develop AO’s PK skills in an understudy role or to better refine his overall game, I wouldn't object. But moving AO into the regular PK rotation wouldn't sit well with me. We have better penalty killers on the team, and frankly the opportunity cost of routinely wearing AO out on the PK and thereby losing him for an even strength shift(s) is too high for my liking. The guy is paid to score, and we need to maximize those chances. They won’t get maximized with him getting 2+ minutes/game on the PK.

JP: I’m not a fan. Whereas I always wanted to see Alexander Semin used more on the PK, the same logic doesn’t apply to the captain. There’s no reason to think Ovechkin wants to kill penalties or would be particularly good at it – his defensive instincts aren’t great, he’s not particularly quick (which is different from saying he’s not fast), his shot-blocking technique... um, yeah. I mean, can anyone envision Ovi doing this or this? Perhaps more to the point, would anyone want to envision Ovi doing that? One well-placed slapper to Ovechkin's boot could sink the Caps' hopes, especially in a shortened season.

The Caps have a whole lot invested in Ovechkin, and there’s no real reason to risk any of that on what would almost certainly be worse penalty-killing than wings like Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward, Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich, Matt Hendricks and so on can provide. Save Ovechkin for the first shift after the PK, where the damage he can do is more likely to help the good guys.

Becca: I actually don’t hate it (yet). Granted, my initial reaction was one of fear and horror at the mere thought - but the more I listened to the rationale, the more I thought it might be an interesting experiment. After all, Oates has had some success in this area before. In Ilya Kovakchuk's first two seasons with New Jersey, he averaged less than ten seconds of shorthanded ice time per game; that changed when Oates came in as assistant coach. Suddenly Kovalchuk was averaging about a minute per game shorthanded, and wasn't just successful at keeping the other team from scoring (on the ice for just four power play goals-against) - he picked up some goals, as well, scoring three times shorthanded and adding another two assists.

Now Alex Ovechkin is not Ilya Kovalchuk. And as JP mentions, he's no Alexander Semin, either. But there's something to be said for being able to contribute in all situations, for learning to play both ends of the ice and shorthanded and in your own zone. Maybe the increased role on the PK helps him on his own power play (as Oates suggests); maybe it just gives him a better appreciation of defensive responsibility in general. He doesn't need to replace a Brooks Laich or a Matt Hendricks or any of the guys averaging two to three minutes of shorthanded ice time a night - but it couldn't hurt to get him acclimated to this role and make him a more well-rounded player. As for blocking shots, well... he tries to do that anyway, and practice makes perfect.

Rob: I disagree with Kareem that Ovechkin "is paid to score goals." All players, at the end of the day, are paid to help maximize goal differential. If that includes playing D and killing penalties, I’m fine with it. It’s always great to have two-way studs, and those players are almost always more valuable than their salary (or their fantasy value) indicates. Pavel Datsyuk is (somehow) routinely underrated because, while everyone understands he is good at defense, they don’t truly understand how important that is. Being able to put your best player on the PK is a huge advantage.

But Alex Ovechkin is not Pavel Datsyuk. Playing him on the PK will not make him Pavel Datsyuk. Ovechkin is going to help the Caps maximize goal differential by playing offense (which, I think, is actually what Kareem is trying to say). There are only so many minutes he can play per night, and those minutes are best used with offensive situations. In economic terms, his comparative advantage is in the offensive zone, the Caps should strive to keep him there. Oh, and when Datsyuk broke his foot on the PK it helped prevent Detroit from winning back-to-back Stanley Cups...