The Washington Capitals learned Conor Sheary would be unable to play against the Seattle Kraken minutes before puck drop on Sunday, causing Peter Laviolette and his coaching staff to scramble and figure out a new lineup.
Laviolette opted to dress 11 forwards and seven defensemen for the game and gave rearguard Dennis Cholowski the spot vacated by Sheary. But instead of fully leaning into the 11/7 formation, Laviolette got creative and used defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk as a forward.
van Riemsdyk skated as the right wing on the second line with Connor McMichael Axel Jonsson-Fjallby and the grouping fared well together. In nearly six minutes of ice time at 5v5, the AJF-CM24-TVR line generated four scoring chances and one against per Natural Stat Trick. van Riemsdyk then switched back to his normal defense position for the rest of the game.
“Trevor’s one of our smart players,” Laviolette explained. “A student of the game to be able to go up and play a different position. This wasn’t something we were planning on doing the whole game. We were hoping to get through the first period and we did. We were ok coming through the first. As the game wore on, then you can lean on the players a little bit more with the schedule we’ve had in the last 11 days. We were just trying to get a line combination of four guys and not to have to double shift too much. Then, we push at the end and just came up short. He probably had half a dozen shifts there and then the rest were on defense and killing penalties.”
The strategy almost worked. After falling behind 4-1 through the first two periods, the Capitals narrowed the Kraken’s lead to two after Alex Ovechkin scored in the third period. The team double-shifted star players and put 23 shots on goal in the final stanza, but was unable to further solve former Capital Philipp Grubauer, eventually losing 5-2.
After the game, van Riemsdyk revealed that the last time he played on the wing was before college.
“It was a weird circumstance,” van Riemsdyk said. “We were ready to go. That didn’t affect [the result] too much. We’re all on the same page with what the new game plan was. That was that. They played well. You got to give them credit. They played tenacious and got the win.”
TVR explained that the change wasn’t too difficult to make because Capitals coaches “do a good job to get you ready for the different situations and stuff like that. When we go through everything before the game, obviously you’re more keyed in on what your position does but you have a general idea of what the wingers are doing because you’ve gotta know where they’re going to be at. So it’s not completely foreign or anything like that. It wasn’t anything too crazy. It was what it was and we did our best job to adjust.”
van Riemsdyk appears to have shared his shifts with Cholowski and received 12:36 of ice time in the game, which was nearly five minutes less than his normal 17:33 average ice time this season.
The loss to the Kraken was the only game the Capitals lost in regulation during the four-game West Coast road trip which featured two sets of back-to-back games and a lot of inopportune injuries. The Capitals received five (2-1-1) out of a possible eight standings points.
“Our guys through it all were on point with trying to make sure that this team keeps moving forward and winning hockey games,” Laviolette said. “The guys who put the jerseys on, whoever it might be, they were trying and they were working even after facing a little bit of adversity tonight. I thought the guys pushed until the end. Literally right to the end.”
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong/RMNB
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