Washington Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette has put together a brand new first line at this year’s Training Camp as the battle-tested duo of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov is now joined by Anthony Mantha on the right wing.
The three forwards did not skate together at all as a unit last season at five-on-five.
“I’m excited about the line in general,” Mantha said after practice on Tuesday. “To play with Ovi is unreal and Kuzy’s such a good player. He calms the play down. So for me, it’s just to be intense, try to win my one-on-one battles down low, try to come out with the pucks, put pressure on their defensemen, and create turnovers.
“[Kuznetsov] will find you,” Mantha continued. “It’s the same thing as playing with Backy last year. He’s able to find you wherever on the ice you’re gonna be at.”
Lines and D pairs in Capitals first practice group today:
— Tom Gulitti (@TomGulittiNHL) September 28, 2021
Ovechkin and Kuznetsov have lined up together for over 1,151 minutes at five-on-five the past three seasons. Mantha only played on the opposite side of Ovechkin for about 18 minutes at five-on-five last season but the results were encouraging in the small sample size. The Caps controlled over 60-percent of the shot attempts and over 68-percent of the scoring chances.
“It’s actually harder than people think,” Mantha said of getting the puck to the Great Eight. “You want to give it to him but obviously the defensemen know you want to give it to him too. You need to kind of play it smart and maybe throw a little fake shot in and then pass it over. I think we’re three great players and we just need to take the open play. I think [Ovechkin] thinks about shooting, shooting, shooting. It’s no secret that’s his game and he’s always positioned properly to get that one-timer off or that quick shot. He’s quick too when he decides to wheel in the neutral zone and he wants the puck wide you better give it to him because he’s just flying. It’s awesome, it’s going to be an excellent challenge for me to play with those two and I’m excited for it.”
Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette spoke Tuesday about his lines coming into more familiar shape over the course of camp and the preseason.
“Injury always factors into it,” Laviolette said. “You start to look at it and put it towards an exhibition game, doesn’t mean it will stay, it could move again so we’ll go from there. At some point, camp does clear out and you move players back to juniors, you make a cut and move players down to Hershey so at some point it starts to thin down and you’re just with the one group. You put your lines together on what you’re thinking and you can put them in exhibition games and hate them or love them and then move it from there.”
Laviolette mentions injury due to the week-to-week status of Nicklas Backstrom and Lars Eller having to miss the back half of practice on Monday. That leaves Kuznetsov as the only real option to center that top line and at this point, that sure looks like where he’ll start.
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong/RMNB
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