Alex Ovechkin shouldered the blame. The Washington Capitals captain committed the turnover that led to the Philadelphia Flyers' only goal in a 1-0 loss Sunday.
"I try and make a play in the offensive zone and it cost us a goal. It was my mistake," Ovechkin said. "It's tough loss for us, I think. My mistake cost us two points, and it cost us the game."
But the postgame conversation centered more on the 6:39 that Ovechkin didn't play after Eric Wellwood's goal. Both he and coach Dale Hunter denied that it was a benching, as the captain pointed out that Jaromir Jagr being on the ice led to the Caps trying to match with Brooks Laich's line.
"I definitely was matching lines. It was one of those things that it wasn't the right match," Hunter said. "I didn't want him against Jagr and Jagr's line and we had the Brooksie line against them."
Reporters grilled Hunter about Ovechkin not being on the ice for an extensive, more than noticeable amount of time. Asked how Ovechkin handled the benching, he offered an even firmer denial.
"Guys, it's not a benching. It was, maybe he missed a shift. Guys, I was matching lines," Hunter said. "So he played and he played a lot in the third and he had his chances and the goalie stood tall."
Hunter is known for how much he likes to match lines, and, in fact, linemates Troy Brouwer and Marcus Johansson didn't play for just about the same amount of time as Ovechkin.
It was curious that Jay Beagle took a shift in Ovechkin's place, but even that was downplayed.
"No, it was just one time because faceoff was in our zone and Dale just put him," Ovechkin said. "It was one minute, two minutes, I think, two minutes left in the second period and they put again Jagr against probably our line so that's why he put Beags on me."
Benching or no benching, Hunter's message to Ovechkin after the turnover was simple.
"Just don't turn it over. Be careful what you do with the puck," the Caps' coach recalled. "Make sure you look before you pass."
Ovechkin relayed the same thing, that Hunter expressed to him "you can't do that."
The goal occurred at the 7:51 mark of the second, and Ovechkin took just one shift the remainder of the period. He seemed to wake up in the third period.
"People make mistakes out there; it's what you do after," Hunter said. "And after, in the third period, he had his chances and the goalie was good tonight."
During a season that started with so much talk about accountability, players didn't want to speak for Hunter and his methods but made it clear that poor play can't be excused.
"We need everyone going. We can't have any time to babysit right now; it's not the time of the year for that," Brouwer said. "Guys need to know what they need to do right now, and if guys aren't doing what they need to do, then we lose hockey games."
Asked about Hunter sending a message with ice time yet again, forward Matt Hendricks was diplomatic.
"Well, this is a team, and everyone in here is fighting for one goal. It’s part of the game. People get sat," he said. "Maybe you know, for what reasons — to learn a lesson, I don’t know — but it happens in hockey. I thought we kept playing hard without him."
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