- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 18, 2017

TORONTO — The Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs have now played three games in their first-round playoff series and, besides all having gone to overtime, all three endings have something in common: Alex Ovechkin has yet to be on the ice for a game-winner for either team.

“Just forget it and move forward,” Ovechkin said, speaking generally about the loss after Monday night’s game. “Obviously, we’re losing the series, but it’s not over yet. I think we should win this game, but we make a couple mistakes and there was a couple lucky bounces. We move forward.”

Ovechkin’s nonchalance mirrors how he’s been used so far in the playoffs. Now down 2-1, the Capitals have yet to ask their star to take over a game for them.

Ovechkin was credited with playing 15:08 Monday, the second-lowest total time on ice of his 87-game playoff career. He was on ice for only 12:40 at even strength, according to the off-ice officials, less than six other forwards: Justin Williams, Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller, T.J. Oshie, Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

“That’s on me to get him the ice time,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said Tuesday. “Sometimes that’s situational, sometimes that’s the zone starts. So, his minutes should be [up], I can get those up.”

As the Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan pointed out upon reviewing video, Ovechkin may have been shortchanged on a few shifts by the official scorekeepers. On one shift he clearly skated for longer than the five seconds he was credited with.

Overall, however, it was still clear that Ovechkin didn’t carry a heavy load in the game, something Trotz said he needs to fix going forward.

One thing Trotz pointed to is that Ovechkin has been playing “hard, quality minutes,” grappling with Leo Komarov, Morgan Rielly and Nikita Zaitsev — all of whom have targeted the big Russian for the Leafs.

To be sure, not all minutes are created equal. Ovechkin has been playing hard and well when he has been on the ice. He has scored in consecutive games and his goal Monday night, a rocket that Toronto goaltender Frederik Andersen had no chance of stopping, was vintage No. 8.

With no indication any of that would change were Ovechkin used more heavily, the Capitals could probably stand to lean on their top player going forward. So far, Trotz has been using Ovechkin systematically, maximizing his starts in the offensive zone and hiding his line from Auston Matthews at times.

“There’s rhythms in the game, rhythms in the game where Matthews is coming out, those types of things, he’s going to be in the offensive zone so that may be a Beagle start or something like that,” Trotz said. “You try to get them [Ovechkin’s line] offensive starts just as he [Babcock] tries to do it with Matthews’ line so you know, we’ve got to get a few more offensive starts here and there too.”

Trotz may be more comfortable with the big-bodies on the Beagle line to handle Matthews down low than he is with saddling Nicklas Backstrom with the same task, but by opting for that matchup, for example, he does sacrifice the upside of the Ovechkin-Backstrom-T.J. Oshie line.

Ovechkin also doesn’t kill penalties, so he winds up playing less than his linemates. Perhaps he would have gotten more time in the pivotal third period if the Capitals hadn’t sent four men to the box. Ovechkin wound up playing just 4:13 in the third Monday night.

“Sometimes you have a bump-up line, you’re killing guys, penalty killers minutes and that’s Backstrom and Oshie and you sort of miss a rep or two here or there but it wasn’t based on play,” Trotz said. “I thought Ovie was playing terrific and it’s on me to get him a little more ice time, no question.”

Ovechkin averaged a career-low 18:22 minutes on ice during the regular season, an adjustment intended to keep him fresh for a long postseason run. Ovechkin played less minutes than he did Monday night just once during the regular season — 13:54 on Feb. 9 against Detroit — begging the question of what, exactly, the Capitals were saving him for if not for these tight games in the playoffs.

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