WASHINGTON, D.C. - If the Washington Capitals are trailing by a goal - especially with one minute left - there is one player whose presence should be a given: Alex Ovechkin. After ultimately forcing overtime and winning 5-4 over the Anaheim Ducks Tuesday at Verizon Center, head coach Bruce Boudreau admitted that.
"I've got to put out the guys that I think are going to score the goal, and 99 percent of the time Alex is the guy I think is going to score the goal," he said.
Yet, with the Ducks leading 4-3 and Tomas Vokoun pulled in favor of an extra attacker, Ovechkin was nowhere to be found on the ice. It was because he was on the bench as Nicklas Backstrom, Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich, Joel Ward and defensemen John Carlson and Dennis Wideman tied the game off a Backstrom rebound goal with 42 seconds left. When asked why Ovechkin wasn't on the ice during that final sequence, Boudreau was blunt.
"I thought other guys were better than him and I thought there was just a chance that other guys might score the goal," Boudreau said. "I just didn't think Alex was going to score the goal at that time tonight. You go with your gut feeling, thinking that line is going pretty good and I got lucky."
Ovechkin was on the ice for Backstrom's game-winning overtime goal and earned the primary assist on the play, but after a night where he saw 17:51 of ice time, his second-lowest total so far this season, and four shots on net, Ovechkin was seemingly benched for what Boudreau thought was poor play. Video highlights from the game show what seems like a tense moment between Boudreau and Ovechkin after the former drew up the last play of regulation without including the latter. It seems like Ovechkin scoffed at his coach's decision with a choice word or words in the heat of the moment.
Regardless of how big you feel that element of the story is, the whole thing begs the question: how serious is Boudreau in sending a message not only to his captain, but his entire team?
The word "accountability" in regards to the Caps came about this summer after Laich signed his contract extension. Such actions took place Monday and Tuesday, when after two straight losses, Boudreau - as he is known to do - switched around his forward lines, putting a player like Mike Knuble on the fourth line. Knuble took such a demotion "personally" and in the process opened up on Boudreau's thought process:
"We're all competitive and we all want to play. We knew coming in it would be a more competitive season. Maybe seasons before you could rest on your laurels, but that's not good enough. That's the way this coach works."
To a lesser scale, Boudreau's decision to start Michal Neuvirth on opening night as opposed to Vokoun created a supposed "goalie controversy." While that may not have actually been the case (unless you're Vokoun's agent), Boudreau rewarded Neuvirth for his stellar play during the preseason. In the same vein, Boudreau rewarded the third line for its inspired play all night (two goals, six assists among Chimera, Laich and Ward) and put them out there with a chance to tie the game. Early on, it definitely seems Boudreau is serious about holding more players accountable.
With every passing playoff disappointment, the seat under Boudreau gets warmer. Boudreau could and should be the first casualty if the Caps fail to meet their expectations this season with another early exit. By holding every single one of his players accountable, including his prized superstar, Boudreau is sending a succinct message that the Caps need to be better.
Otherwise, he and some of them might be gone.