Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have spent most of the last ten seasons skating together on the first line. They’ve had a bunch of success. Ovechkin, who has already crossed the 500-goal and 1,000-point plateaus in his career, has tallied 539 even-strength points in 758 games since Backstrom joined the team in 2007. Meanwhile, the Swedish center has tallied 421 even-strength points in 734 contests.
Tuesday, Capitals head coach Barry Trotz announced that the productive duo will no longer be paired together – at least to start the season.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) September 19, 2017
During his daily press conference with reporters, Trotz said that Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov will form one forward duo while Nicklas Backstrom and TJ Oshie will form the other top veteran paring in the top six.
“We’re going to start with Kuzy and probably Ovi together and probably a Backy Osh,” Trotz said. “And then we need to find the next pairing and who’s going to go with them and that type of thing. Nothing is permanent in this business as you know, but that’s probably where we want to start.”
Trotz was then asked if Burakovsky had locked down a spot in the top six.
“I think that’s foregone,” he said. “[Andre Burakovsky]’s filling in [Marcus Johansson]’s spot. Now we have to fill his spot. That’s sorta what we have to do.”
The candidates for that final top-six spot include frontrunners like Jakub Vrana and Brett Connolly. Trotz also mentioned veteran prospects Chandler Stephenson and 2016-17 Hershey Bears team MVP Travis Boyd. Trotz did not mention Tom Wilson who finished last season skating on the third line with Lars Eller. In an interview earlier this week, Trotz said of Wilson that “he’s got to score double digit goals this year.”
“We’ve got to find who’s going to go in that other top six spot,” Trotz said. “Is going to be Cono? Is it going to be a guy like Vrana? It is going to be a guy like Stephenson or Boyd. Who’s going to be that guy? I think by putting those two together you can put a young guy on both those lines. Two veteran guys with high-end skill and hopefully can be pretty productive.”
Monday night after the Capitals lost 4-1 to the New Jersey Devils, Trotz singled out Travis Boyd for his good play. Boyd has dominated at the AHL level, but has not shown enough speed to necessarily be productive at the NHL level.
“Some guys acquitted themselves well,” Trotz said. “A guy like Travis Boyd played well. He’s a guy that’s been coming. He showed a lot of different things.”
But it appears the spot is Jakub Vrana’s to lose.
“The thing with V. He’s a young guy with speed. He can get the space and once he does, he can shoot it,” Trotz said. “There’s very few guys that can skate with Kuzy”
“We’re going to try him there. I know Cono can go there. I’ve done that a little bit last year. We have a few guys who can go there, but I think it’s really important, especially early here, for the young guys to get an opportunity. With V playing with high-skill guys, he plays a better game. He’s not a guy that can grind it out on the fourth line. We drafted him to be a high prospect and we want to put him in that position. I think he’s capable of it. It’s really in his hands now. It really is. We’re going to give him that opportunity.”
Wednesday night, the Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Vrana line will debut against the Montreal Canadiens during the Capitals’ second preseason game of the year. With Nathan Walker and Devante Smith-Pelly as the other two forwards to make the team, the Capitals could be sporting a lineup that looks like this opening night.
Burakovsky – Backstrom – Oshie
Ovechkin – Kuznetsov – Vrana
Connolly – Eller – Wilson
Walker – Beagle – DSP
Tuesday’s lines (Photo: @Capitals)
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