Originally posted on Turner Sports Desk  |  Last updated 5/2/12
Lost in all the talk about Capitals star winger Alexander Ovechkin's diminished ice time is the fact that the 3rd and 4th lines are shutting down the opponent's top lines while scoring critical goals themselves. While this is terrific news, the Caps need their Captain and best player to lead from the front.
Thus far Ovechkin has said all the media friendly things like "As long as we are winning I don't care about ice time" While that is nice to hear and may satisfy some, that is simply not enough to earn a Stanley Cup. The fact is if the Caps have any hope of being the last team standing when the smoke clears Alexander Ovechkin has to give his team more. He needs to learn how to play within the defensive concept and not be such a liability that Hunter's best option is to bench his best player.
I don't think people understand just how big a statement Dale Hunter is making. He is challenging his best player and team captain to be a leader not by scoring 3 goals a night but by not being a huge defensive liability. Folks you have to be either really, really bad or just don't care if the coach's best option is to bench his best player. I'm sure the Rangers don't mind this at all as it makes life easier for them. As the Captain of the team it is Ovechkin's responsibility to work harder, longer and show his teammates he cares enough about his team to learn where he needs to be defensively and what he needs to do. No one is asking him to become Frank Selke, but he has to give his team more than being ok with being benched.
The days of Ovechkin hanging out by the opponent's blue line waiting for the outlet pass while everyone else plays defense are over. In the playoffs that strategy makes him the weakest link on defense and easily exploitable. The film does not lie and Ovi looks lost at times on defense. Everyone loves his passion and energy but big hits are not enough. Defense is about skating, positioning, timing, stick work, patience, discipline, the occasional big hit and most important attitude. 
Good defense creates quality scoring opportunities because good defense creates turnovers thus more offensive possessions. The tragic irony is Ovi's offensive numbers would exponentially increase if he played better defense. Ovechkin is such a fantastic player that if he put in the work to be halfway decent two-way player he would make his team light years better. These nail biting games we are forced to endure would be decided in our favor much earlier if only our Captain could be trusted on the ice by his coach.
This is a critical time for Ovechkin because we are going to learn how much he has matured. We are going to learn if he is truly willing to give all he can so that this team can win. In the playoffs quality scoring chances come three ways. A brutally consistent forecheck, positionally sound defense with forwards actively back checking or your opponent makes a mistake and gifts you an opportunity. The third and fourth line guys are proving that hard work and playing within the system works. Now the top two lines need to get with the plan and start to contributing more by rolling up their sleeves. The Captain has to lead his men. I've never seen a good leader lead from behind. Ovechkin has to set the example and put in the work otherwise the Caps will not go much further. If Ovechkin chooses not to do more then he is only a sniper which make him not worth the money they are paying. Leonsis is paying him to be a difference maker and you can't make much of a difference on the bench.

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