Caps coach Adam Oates made mention the other day of the heavy workload that his big guns have had to shoulder in the early going of the 2013-14 season.
On opening night in Chicago on Tuesday, defenseman Mike Green logged 26:48, with 12:15 of it coming in the third period. Right wing Alex Ovechkin skated 22:13, and both Green (6:10) and Ovechkin (6:00) were out for virtually all of Washington’s 6:28 worth of man-advantage time.
Center Nicklas Backstrom skated 20:34 in the opener, with nearly half (9:08) of that figure coming in the third period.
Washington spent most of that game against the Blackhawks trying to come from behind; the Caps led for a total of 2:39 that night, all of it early in the third period.
In Thursday’s home opener against Calgary, the Caps fell into a 3-0 hole in the first period and never led in the game despite taking a 5-4 shootout decision from the Flames.
Green logged 31:01 against the Flames, with 13:06 coming after the end of the second period. Ovechkin skated 22:14, including 9:11 after the game’s first 40 minutes. Brooks Laich skated 21:05.
Defenseman Jack Hillen was lost to injury early in the game, which put a heavier workload on the rest of the defense. John Carlson skated 28:30 and Karl Alzner 27:53. Alzner was the only lefty defenseman to play in overtime; he was on the ice for 3:03 of the five-minute extra session.
Oates would love to roll four lines, but it would be more conducive to doing so if the Caps were playing with a lead and if the number of special teams situations were more limited.
“You don’t want too many penalties,” says Oates, “because that effects all of those match-ups, etcetera. And guys sit for too long and you feel like, ‘I’d better not put him our right now because it’s been too long; he’s cold.’ You don’t want to put him in a situation where he’ll struggle because he hasn’t moved in a while. We do have four good lines that I feel we can roll, that can play against anybody, and we have to put ourselves in a position to get a rhythm and to do that.”
Being able to roll all four lines keeps everyone fresh and in the game.
“It gets everybody into the game,” says Laich. “Our fourth line can be very effective. One of the top players on our team is currently on it [Martin Erat]. We want to get those guys on the ice because they’re good players and they’re going to be effective for us.
“The other thing is, if we’re chasing from behind, we’re taxing our top guys too much. Guys are playing too many minutes and over the course of the year that could wear down certain players. I think we’re a four-line team, I really do, and six defense. We shouldn’t have to shorten our bench very often. The more that we can play everybody it keeps everybody fresh and maybe prevents injuries in the long run. But we want everybody on the ice.”
Tonight in Dallas, the Caps hope to get the jump on the Stars and to play with the lead for a change. With four days between tonight’s tilt and their next game (on Thursday against Carolina at Verizon Center), the Caps will have plenty of time to rest after this one.
How much would getting a lead help Oates to be able to roll four lines?
“A lot,” admits the coach. “Tonight, [it’s] another hot building. It was hot out there today; the ice is a little slushy. Every little thing you can come up with that helps is important and getting a lead just makes it that much easier.”
Friday’s practice before the trip to Dallas was an optional one, and several players took that option because they’d skated so many minutes the night before.
“The other thing that people don’t really think of is that the next day we need to get rest as well,” says Laich. “So a lot of those guys take an option from practice and then you miss out on a team practice. So if you can play the four lines, it just makes you so much better. There are so many benefits to it, and that comes form playing with a lead. We don’t want to tax the guys, we want to be on the ice [for practice] together at all times if you can, get our rest when we have to and not put ourselves in any situations where we are desperate like that.”