Photo: Drew Hallowell
Looks like Head Coach Barry Trotz is shuffling his line combos heading into Game Five on Saturday. NHL.com’s Katie Brown has the lines from practice this morning:
Caps lines at practice:
— Katie Brown (@katiebhockey) May 6, 2016
The biggest change is the flip-flopping of centers Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov’s elevation forms a new top line for Head Coach Barry Trotz with Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie, one that had success early in the season. Other notable changes include the reformation of the Caps’ Tre Kronor line with Backstrom centering Marcus Johansson and Andre Burakovsky, and Justin Williams finding himself on the third line.
Notably, this trio (affectionally nicknamed the TKO line) started the season as the Caps’ top line when Nicklas Backstrom was out of the lineup. They were good. Over the season, when the three were on the ice together in almost 179 minutes of ice time, they managed a shot attempt percentage of 55.9 (2.2 relative shot attempt percentage).
With Nicklas Backstrom away from Ovechkin, Barry might attempt to stay away from the power on power matchups that have dominated this series. Kuznetsov is not the defensive center that Backstrom is, and having him matching up against Sidney Crosby might be a tough ask.
The Backstrom first line did a fine job limiting Crosby and company this series, but in my mind the hope here is to stop the bleeding lower in the lineup. Get Ovechkin out with Kuznetsov against somebody other than Crosby, perhaps Evgeni Malkin.
This does not appear to be the new shutdown line as Burakovsky is not as proficient as, say, Jason Chimera or Justin Williams defensively, but Barry may still like the Backstrom on Crosby matchup. The Tre Kronor line only played about 48 minutes together in the regular season, but they did accumulate a 54.6 shot attempt percentage. (-0.48 percent relative).
The Swede connection may give these guys some added chemistry, and all three are good handling and passing the puck. Burakovsky is likely the triggerman on the line, so look for him to get a few extra shots on goal in Game Five.
Here is your shutdown line. I would expect these guys to be matched up on Crosby as much as possible, especially for faceoffs in the defensive zone. In more than 58 minutes of icetime on the year, this line had a 50.3 shot attempt percentage (-3.03 percent relative).
All three are playoff performers for the Caps and are great defensively. They may not win style points, but these three will be very strong along the boards and are not afraid to go to the net.
Mike Richards is apparently feeling under the weather today, so he did not practice. That does not mean that Michael Latta will be taking his place on Saturday for Game Five. I fully expect Mike Richards to center the fourth line. In almost 62 minutes of ice time together this year, the line has a 47.3 shot attempt percentage (-5.55 percent relative).
Quality defense and quality physicality is all that will be asked of this line. When they are on the ice, Barry will want them to play even and play hard. They all have that ability. If they pot one, that will be gravy.
Have an opinion on the lines? Leave it in the comments.
All stats are 5-on-5 and come from Corsica.
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