The Capitals have changed their lines following Thursday’s 6-0 shellacking by the New Jersey Devils. Chandler Stephenson replaces Brett Connolly on the first line alongside Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Connolly reunites with Lars Eller and Andre Burakovsky on the third line, as the trio looks to bounce back from a down 2017-2018 season.
The rest of the line-up remains the same.
Tom Gulitti of NHL.com shares the news:
Capitals lines this morning (vs. Toronto tonight):
— Tom Gulitti (@TomGulittiNHL) October 13, 2018
The Capitals didn’t even put up a fight against the Devils on Thursday, so Reirden is mixing up the lines to bring more stability to the team.
The top line of Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, and Connolly never found the form that Todd Reirden may have expected. Those three players controlled only 43.6 percent of shot attempts in nearly 50 minutes at five-on-five, which means their opponents usually had the puck play during their shifts.
It’s been a tough start to the season for Connolly. Connolly is goalless through the first four games, and the Capitals have controlled 46.5 percent of shot attempts while he is on the ice. The 26-year-old doesn’t bring the defensive stability the line needs while Tom Wilson is out due to suspension.
On Wednesday, Connolly missed an open net, denying Evgeny Kuznetsov a fourth primary assist against the Golden Knights:
The Capitals expect dominating play from their top line, which they have not been getting. Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, and Connolly have given up 15 high-danger chances to the 8 they have created. The first line has relied on the individual offensive brilliance of Ovechkin and Kuznetsov through the first four games, and they need a player who protects their weaknesses.
Stephenson doesn’t offer much offensive upside, but he brings defensive prowess to the first line. The Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Stephenson line out attempted opponents 15 to 9 and outscored opponents 1 to 0 in a short stint during the 2017-2018 playoffs.
Coach Todd Reirden explained to WaPo’s Isabelle Khurshudyan his reason for making the switch:
Reirden to reporters on moving Stephenson to top line: “Just the depth of [Toronto's] four lines and the way that they play, I think this lines up better for our four lines matchup-wise for us, and also just looking for someone with a little bit different type of skill set."
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) October 13, 2018
With Toronto’s fearsome scoring-chance volume so far, Stephenson will look to slow them down.
If the reunited third line of Burakovsky, Eller, and Connolly rediscovers their chemistry from the 2016-2017 season, the Capitals can win the third line matchup every game and lower the defensive burden on the Backstrom line. The Eller trio dominated that season, controlling 58.5 percent of shot attempts in 265 minutes at five-on-five.
The Capitals face the offensive juggernaut Toronto Maple Leafs tonight. Winning the third line matchup and stopping the puck-possession bleeding on the top line might give the Capitals their best shot at victory.
Headline photo: Cara Bahniuk
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