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Adam Oates will consider using Alex Ovechkin on penalty kill

By Adam Gretz | Hockey writer

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The above video features Alex Ovechkin scoring a shorthanded goal during his rookie season. A season that saw him spend more than 60 minutes of ice-time killing penalties.

It's a role that you might see him playing again this season.

The big buzz coming out of Washington Capitals camp on Wednesday was that first-year coach Adam Oates will "absolutely" consider using Ovechkin in a penalty killing role in 2013.

It obviously wouldn't be the first time that he has played in such a situation. He has played more than 170 such minutes in his career, scoring four shorthanded goals. Almost all of those minutes came before the 2009-10 season, including a career-high 73 in 2008-09. He has seen almost no time on the PK over the past two seasons.

That soon could be changing, according to Oates.

"He's a smart hockey player," said Oates via Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times. "And a lot of times, penalty killers are smart guys. 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."

Oates also added that if the Capitals were in a situation where they would potentially have to kill two penalties in a row, he would have to get Ovechkin on the ice at some point, which could also result in him having to play on the PK.

It's an interesting idea (that doesn't necessarily mean it's always going to be a great idea). Keep in mind that Oates is coming to Washington after spending time behind the bench in New Jersey as an assistant. One of the strategies put into play by Devils coach Pete DeBoer last season was to use super-talented forward Ilya Kovalchuk on the penalty kill. Kovalchuk was never regarded as a great defensive player, but the PK time helped him to become a better all-around player.

It was an experiment that had a great deal of success. Kovalchuk was one of the few players in the NHL last season to finish as a plus-player in four-on-five situations. He ended up playing over a minute per game on what was the top-ranked penalty killing unit in the league.

Early last season, I asked DeBoer about his usage of Kovalchuk on the PK.

"He's obviously a guy we want to be able to get out on the ice in situations in games where there's a lot of speciality teams," said DeBoer. "You don't want him sitting for long stretches because of the penalty kill, so we're using him in both situations."

Simple enough. Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that Oates, who obviously had a hand in what the Devils were doing a season ago, would seek out a similar strategy in Washington.

Nobody should expect Ovechkin to be one of the Capitals' top penalty killers or log more shorthanded time than any of their other, better defensive forwards. But even if in a limited role there are, of course, some concerns. For one, every second that Ovechkin spends on the ice in a penalty killing role is a second that he doesn't get in an offensive situation, which is obviously his strength as a player.

But the even bigger concern: Injury.

Specifically, an injury that could come from blocking a shot or even accidentally taking a hard slap shot from, say, Winnipeg's Dustin Byfuglien, off the foot or leg.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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