Capitals' Alex Ovechkin set for penalty kill?

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Sports,NHL,Capitals,Brian McNally

Oates might use star in that role sometimes

By the end of last season, Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin essentially had turned into an offensive specialist. If his team had a lead late in a game, then more than likely Ovechkin's ice time would get reduced.

What a difference a new coach makes. Adam Oates said Wednesday he is not against using Ovechkin on the penalty kill.

"[Ovechkin is] a smart hockey player. And a lot of times penalty killers are smart guys," Oates said. "You need execution. You need clearers. You need guys that know what a power play will do. 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."

Of course, Ovechkin hasn't played that role in a while. In 2008-09 he skated a career-high 73:25 on the PK. As a rookie in 2005-06 he was on that unit for 65:52. But last season he was on the ice short-handed a grand total of 2:01. Ovechkin does have four short-handed goals in his career.

Oates was an assistant coach with the New Jersey Devils when that team tried a similar tactic with star winger -- and Ovechkin's good friend -- Ilya Kovalchuk last season. Kovalchuk, also a prolific goal scorer, was given more responsibility by the Devils and played 88:48 on the penalty kill. Oates didn't delve into specifics, so there's no word whether Ovechkin will be used on a regular penalty-kill shift. But he is willing to accept the increased injury risk to keep his star on the ice as much as possible.

"Yeah, because 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."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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Brian McNally

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner