On Wednesday night, the Washington Capitals lost their second straight game in regulation for the first time in 19 months. Hours earlier head coach Barry Trotz had dismissed Washington’s struggles as “small samples” that just gave the media “something to write about.” At the Capitals’ first practice since Washington’s 4-1 defeat to the Edmonton Oilers, Trotz gave the media plenty to write about all by himself, dramatically tweaking the forward lines.
“The coaching staff feels something fresh is going to happen,” new first line right wing Justin Williams said Tuesday in Vancouver, where the Capitals will play the Canucks Saturday night. “Obviously we need it. We’re not scoring enough goals, and that’s pretty evident, it’s clear.”
Williams was joined by Nicklas Backstrom at center and Alex Ovechkin at left wing. Evgeny Kuznetsov centered the second line with Marcus Johansson and Tom Wilson at his sides. The third line featured Andre Burakovsky, perhaps Washington’s best player so far this season, with Lars Eller playing the pivot and TJ Oshie at right wing. Two players who have been alternating scratches for the third line left wing role, Zach Sanford and Brett Connolly, round out the bottom six with Jay Beagle in the middle.
“We’re not scoring goals, we’re not doing enough, and we need to get better — plain and simple,” Williams said.
The Capitals have the second fewest goals in the league, just ahead of the New Jersey Devils. Washington has not scored more than two goals in the any of their last three games. Part of this, however, is due to their piddling power play, which is clicking at just 10.5 percent and ranks 28th in the NHL. The Capitals’ five-on-five scoring is tied for 16th in the league.
“Our possession numbers are off the charts,” Trotz said after practice. “The only stat I really care about is the scoreboard.”
The Capitals control 53.4 percent of five-on-five shot attempts, which ranks fourth in the league.
The new second line is the most perplexing to me. Kuznetsov and Johansson have played 699 minutes 57 seconds together. When the pair is on the ice at even-strength a disappointing 47.9 percent of shot attempts go in Washington’s favor. Apart, Kuznetsov has a 52.6 percent shot attempt differential while Johansson’s is 53.3 percent. Wilson’s move seems to be designed to provide a net-front guy to the line while providing the playing time the Capitals have long proposed they would give Wilson. But neither player #43 is playing with is someone who peppers shots at the net, and there are far more talented players now slotted below him in the line. The old Tre Kronor second line, for what it’s worth, was one of the best in hockey. If Burakovsky and Oshie were switched with Johansson and Wilson, I would be feeling a lot better about these changes.
Apparently not in the lineup for Saturday’s game: Daniel Winnik, one of Washington’s best penalty killers on a unit that is having a hard time keeping pucks out of the net. The Capitals’ PK ranks 27th in the NHL, stopping opponents from scoring just 72.2 percent of the time.
Trotz explained his reasoning — well, sort of.
“Just spread them out a little bit, see what we can come up with,” Trotz said. “This is not a revelation. All coaches move them around.”
Headline image: Doug Pensinger
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