Alex Ovechkin's stat sheet Tuesday night was not a terrible one: the primary assist on the Capitals' game-winning goal and four shots in 17:51 of ice time.
But it was the clutch situation that Ovechkin was not a part of — with Washington trailing by one — and his response that drew loads of attention and criticism from national analysts.
With 1:02 left and the Caps losing 4-3 to the Anaheim Ducks at Verizon Center, coach Bruce Boudreau decided to put the line of Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich and Joel Ward onto the ice.
Nicklas Backstrom was the extra attacker, and Dennis Wideman and John Carlson were the defensemen.
"They were playing good and other guys, not so much," Boudreau said.
One of the "other guys" was Ovechkin, the face of the franchise and one of the biggest stars in the league, who's making $9 million this season. The reason, according to Boudreau, was simple.
"I thought other guys were better than him, and I thought it was just a chance that other guys might score the goal," the coach said. "I've got to put out the guys that I think are going to score the goal. And 99 percent of the time, Alex is the guy I think is going to score the goal. I just didn't think he was going to score the goal at that time tonight. You go with your gut-feeling thinking that other line is going pretty good."
A Versus television camera picked up video of the conversation between Boudreau and Ovechkin during a timeout with 1:27 left. Ovechkin seemed less than thrilled with the situation, turned away to sit back on the bench and muttered something under his breath that appeared to include an expletive.
Mike Keenan, a Versus analyst who coached the New York Rangers to the 1994 Stanley Cup, ripped Ovechkin on the network's postgame show.
"In this case Alex Ovechkin has to show a lot more respect to his coaching staff and to his team. There's a response here that's not a positive response," Keenan said. "I give Bruce Boudreau a lot of credit for making this decision. He's delivering a message to the star player and his team. That kind of behavior on the ice is not acceptable: Details have to be looked at if we're going to be a championship team. ...
"I don't want to see that behavior from him again on the bench ever. You want to be a top player in this league, show respect."
On TSN in Canada, analyst Bob McKenzie said there are two stories – one about Ovechkin's game, which is "obviously not where it needs to be," and another about accountability, which the Caps have preached since the summer.
"The more important thing is that Bruce Boudreau and the Washington Capitals are finally laying down the hammer here and sending a message to the rest of the players: We'll do it to Ovechkin; we'll do it to you," McKenzie said. "Change the culture."
Ovechkin was not made available to reporters afterward and was not in the locker room when the doors were opened. His only public comments after the 5-4 overtime victory – which he helped create by deflecting the puck to Backstrom for his goal – came on Versus with Keith Jones.
"I think the Wardo-Brooks Laich line play unbelievable today," he said. "They score like four goals. It's coach's decision, so it's working."
Asked about the overtime assist, Ovechkin said: "It's good. We win. We bounce back after 3-0. I think Brooks Laich's line play unbelievable. They dominate them, and they deserved to be there when the important moment comes."
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