Coaches leaning more and more on their star forwards
|Toronto Star 30 Jan 2019 at 14:36|
The Colorado Avalanche centre is too invested in the moment â€” usually one where heâ€™s either trying to help his team get even or push ahead in a tight contest.
Colorado Avalanche centre Nathan MacKinnon is in the same boat as a number of NHL stars this season as teams lean harder and harder on big names up front.Â Â (David Santiago / Miami Herald/TNS)
The surprise comes after the final buzzer when the stat sheet reveals how much time heâ€™s logged.
â€śAfter the game, youâ€™re kind of in shock,â€ť said MacKinnon, whoâ€™s had three outings of more than 25 minutes this season. â€śThatâ€™s a lot of minutes. But you get the adrenalin going, especially late when youâ€™re down. Youâ€™re pushing. Itâ€™s mostly the next day I feel it. Definitely a little sluggish, tough sleeps ... things like that.
â€śBut I love it. Itâ€™s a lot of fun. We canâ€™t complain about playing a lot.â€ť
MacKinnon is in the same boat as a number of NHL stars this season as teams lean harder and harder on big names up front.
L.A. Kingsâ€™ Ilya Kovalchuk begins his NHL second act in Hollywood
Ilya Kovalchuk averaged an outrageous 24 minutes 44 seconds with New Jersey during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, but there are six forwards this season on pace to finish next in line behind that number if current ice-time trends continue.
Floridaâ€™s Aleksander Barkov plays 23 minutes a night, followed by Edmontonâ€™s Connor McDavid (22:49), Winnipegâ€™s Mark Scheifele (22:42), Anze Kopitar (22:27) of Los Angeles, Edmontonâ€™s Leon Draisaitl (22:09) and Chicagoâ€™s Patrick Kane (22:08). MacKinnon, meanwhile, comes in a little further down the list at 21:58.
While top-end defencemen still register more ice time â€” 14 with at least 40 games of action this season are averaging better than 24 minutes, while four top the 26-minute mark â€” elite forwards continue to see their numbers creep up.
â€śYouâ€™ve just got to make sure youâ€™re taking care of yourself off the ice,â€ť McDavid said. â€śThe minutes donâ€™t bother me. Itâ€™s something that Iâ€™ve always had to deal with.â€ť
Kane played 28:50 â€” the most by a forward this season and just eight seconds fewer than the 28:58 that Kovalchuk was on for two times in 2013 â€” in an 8-5 loss to New Jersey last month, while Draisaitl (twice), McDavid (twice) and Barkov have also broken the 28-minute barrier in 2018-19.
Edmonton head coach Ken Hitchcock said he doesnâ€™t have an issue running his stars out shift after shift because of the amount of stoppages in games.
Colorado head coach Jared Bednar, who plays his top line of MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen between 21 and 22 minutes, said he doesnâ€™t worry about ice time most nights.
â€śIf we happen to run them into that 25-(minute) range we like to give them a little bit of time off to get recovered,â€ť he said. â€śTheyâ€™re pretty in tune with what they need.â€ť
Vancouver centre Bo Horvat chalked up big minutes early in the schedule because of injuries, and found himself playing differently to conserve energy.
â€śYou have to pace yourself,â€ť he said. â€śYou have to limit your shifts to keep them a little shorter and focus on other aspects of your game.â€ť
Travis Green said teams are constantly aware of ice time, but itâ€™s a tricky balance when every point in the standings can mean the difference between making or missing the playoffs.
â€śIn a perfect world, if you asked any coach, they donâ€™t want to play guys over a certain amount of minutes,â€ť Vancouverâ€™s bench boss said. â€śAnd yet, youâ€™re also out there trying to win.â€ť
Florida goalie Roberto Luongo said teammates notice and appreciate when a player is chewing up minutes like the 23 that Barkov consistently churns out.
â€śWe cherish him,â€ť Luongo said. â€śWe wish he could play 60.â€ť
But Vancouver centre Jay Beagle, who averages less than 14 minutes further down the lineup, said having an even distribution works better in the long run.
â€śItâ€™s hard for those top guys to play 25, even over 20 minutes for the whole 82-game season,â€ť said Beagle, who was part of Washington teams where Alex Ovechkin regularly played well over 20 minutes. â€śYou want guys fighting for ice. It brings out the best in everybody.â€ť
Toronto head coach Mike Babcock, who has no forwards averaging more than 20 minutes, pointed to first-place Tampa Bay â€” where NHL scoring leader Nikita Kucherov tops out at 19:22 â€” as a model when it comes to ice distribution.
â€śTheyâ€™ve got good players on every line,â€ť Babcock said. â€śThose are the (teams) that tend to play a long time in the spring.â€ť