Alex Ovechkin "absolutely" could see time on the penalty kill this season, Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates said Wednesday. The superstar isn't known for his defensive prowess, but Oates said he discussed a penalty-killing role with Ovechkin and wouldn't hesitate to put him out there in those situations.
"He's a smart hockey player. And a lot of times, penalty killers are smart guys. You need execution, you need clearers, you need guys that know what a power play will do," Oates said. "And he's also a threatening player. When a team's power play's on the ice, they know he's out there. If we can get in their heads a little bit, that's a great situation to be in."
Oates was an assistant with the New Jersey Devils last season when coach Peter DeBoer experimented with Ilya Kovalchuk on the penalty kill. The result was a career-high in ice time and three short-handed goals.
Ovechkin has played just 178 minutes and 38 seconds of his NHL career short-handed, mostly in 2005-06 and 2008-09. He has four short-handed goals in that time.
One benefit for the Caps is helping Ovechkin stay in the rhythm of games, like Kovalchuk was able to do.
"Let's say we get two penalties in a row. I've got to get him on the ice, so he's got to learn how to play that situation," Oates said. "I also think it helps him. When you play penalty killing, you learn little things that maybe will help him on the power play. We've got a lead and the team pulls the goalie, he's got to be out there. So he's got to know how to play there. That's an important time for our team."
There's inherent risk in Ovechkin seeing penalty-killing time, including the possibility of injury. The 27-year-old is owed more than $84 million from Washington over the final nine years of his contract.
"Obviously a concern is you don't want him blocking a shot and being hurt," Oates said. "And you know what, that's a coach's nightmare. But that's part of the deal."
Ovechkin to carry torch
Ovechkin will be a part of the torch relay for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and he reiterated Wednesday he intends to play for his country in the games.
"I'm very excited. It's a big thing in Russia and it's a very good thing," Washington's captain said. "I'm very proud I'm one of the guys who is going to have [the] torch. I'm very happy, and it means a lot to me."
Ovechkin doesn't know what part of the 123-day pre-games journey he'll be doing. But he does know he'll plan on representing Russia whether or not the NHL decides to take an Olympic break and send its players.
"To be honest, I didn't think about it right now. It doesn't matter what they're going to say to me," Ovechkin said. "Of course it means a lot for everybody, for all the Russians. I've been in Olympic Games and I know exactly how it feels to play there. It's pretty big -- biggest event in the world."
Olympic participation was not something written into the new collective bargaining agreement, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said, because it has to do with the International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation as well.
The Caps worked on the power play Wednesday, debuting the units that could start the season. The top group includes Ovechkin, Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom, Troy Brouwer and Marcus Johansson. The second unit includes Ovechkin, John Carlson, Mike Ribeiro, Joel Ward and Wojtek Wolski.
Oates said he kept the team's 1-3-1 power-play system intact, but there are some changes.
"We rely on our skill players quite a bit," Brouwer said. "I know we did before, but our playmakers need to make plays in this type of power play. We have good support, but as long as there are good passes and we can keep the puck where we want to, we should be able to work it around nicer."
The Caps sent first-round pick Tom Wilson back to the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League, leaving them with 22 healthy players in camp.
All 48 regular-season games will be televised on Comcast SportsNet, NBC Sports Network or NBC. CSN has 41 of the 48 games, including Saturday night's season opener.
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.