Hi everyone, Ryan Lambert here. I’m writing guest posts for Puck Buddys until the Capitals are eliminated from the playoffs, which will be never. Get into it.
The one thing you can say about Dale Hunter is that he is a hell of a nice guy. Well, okay, you can say a whole heck of a lot of things about Dale Hunter, but before anything else he’s a hell of a nice guy. “But Ryan,” you’re surely all saying, “he tried to kill all those guys he played against.” To which I say pish posh. Well okay, he did try to kill them. And a lot of times, he nearly succeeded.
So how do I know Dale Hunter, Nice Guy, is a nice guy? Two words, my friends: Benching Ovechkin. Oh yes, it’s been a controversial practice, and it’s one that got Bruce Boudreau fired into the sun — actually, a worse fate: fired into Orange County — but it’s very difficult to argue with the practice, given that it has very clearly gotten results.
Ovechkin is first and foremost a scoring machine and one that benefits from taking shifts that last six, seven, even eight hours at a stretch. The longer he’s on the ice, the more he scores. That’s probably a fact. (True believers don’t actually look these things up.) And consequently, Hunter’s hotly-contested “benching” of his mercurial Russian captain has actually been to the benefit of other teams.
Look at it this way: Ovechkin very infamously got just 13:36 of ice time in that game, and think of what he did with it. The game-winning goal (and the legendary taunt of the unwashed goons at Madison Square Garden that followed), two hits, a blocked shot and SEVEN shots on goal of his own. No one else on the team had more than four, and that was Matt Hendricks. In just over 13 and a half minutes. If this is the kind of motivation we can expect out of Ovechkin going forward — hint: it is — then woe be unto poor Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, who will undoubtedly be trampled by the Capitals’ run to the Eastern Conference Finals and, indeed, beyond.
Again, Hunter has met considerable criticism for his handling of the NHL’s most recognizable player, but if you think about it, he’s just doing John Tortorella a favor. We all know that the Rangers’ supremely annoying coach has a habit of keeping his press conferences shorter than Steve Gionta when the Rangers roll over someone 9-1, so for every minute Ovechkin isn’t on the ice, that’s one fewer F-bomb Torts has to drop to distract from the fact that his team can’t put more than nine shots on goal in any period. And he doesn’t have to hold his breath like a kid whose mom won’t buy him a GI Joe to hide that Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, et al aren’t carrying the big-money water they were brought in to shoulder.
Poor Chris Kreider, at just 21 years old, pretty much has to do everything by himself. He just finished college, guys. Give the kid the chance to unwind just a little bit, eh? Selfish is what it is.
Oh, and it’s worth noting that this was in a game played at Madison Square Garden. Or, if you prefer, a building where Hunter is unable to line match. Imagine what pains and torments Ovechkin will deliver unto his opponents if he’s given favorable matchups (you know, aside from the fact that “literally anyone on the planet” is at a disadvantage when playing against him) and home ice advantage at Verizon Center.
A hat trick if he gets an extra minute or two of ice time? With four extra power play shifts? Dare we dream of an Ovechtrick?