The Washington Capitals have been outscored 11-2 on home ice in their last two games as head coach Peter Laviolette struggles to find balance among his forward lines.
The team practiced Monday after their latest loss to the Minnesota Wild and the line blender was turned right back on as the brass tries to figure out how they’ll look against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday.
“You can say it, but you’ve got to do it, right? You’ve got to go out and you’ve got to play north-south and you’ve got to deliver that type of game. And right now we’re not,” Laviolette told The Athletic’s Tarik El-Bashir after the game Sunday.
Here is how Lavi’s attempt at finding a more “north-south” lineup shook out via El-Bashir.
Connor McMichael, who rotated in and out of line rushes, appears likely to remain a healthy scratch for the time being. Joining him in the press box will be Axel-Jonsson Fjallby as the two rookies become the casualties of a veteran Caps team finally getting healthy in the final month of the regular season.
Evgeny Kuznetsov has been reunited with Alex Ovechkin after one game apart and the two Russian stars have been joined by TJ Oshie in a reunion of the ‘TKO’ line. The top trio played together often under Barry Trotz, skating over 288 minutes together at five-on-five across the 2015-16, 2016-17, and 2017-18 seasons. The Caps held a 57-percent shot attempt percentage, a 62.4-percent expected goals percentage, a 61.9-percent scoring chance for percentage, and a 65.2-percent high danger chance for percentage with the three talented forwards on the ice in those minutes.
The last notable move among the forward group is Marcus Johansson lining up on the left wing for the first time in his second stint with the Capitals. The Swedish trade deadline acquisition is still pointless in five games since rejoining the team that drafted him in 2009.
The defense corps and fourth line will remain the same as everything else shifts around them which seemingly will also include the number one goaltending spot.
“We’ve got games down the stretch for a push for somebody to make a case. They’ll probably both continue to get games,” Laviolette told El-Bashir about Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov after practice. “I’d like to have a guy that has emerged and moved forward from that group. They’re both good goaltenders but you want somebody to really take hold of it. There’s an opportunity down the stretch here.”
Vanecek had a stranglehold on the net for the month of March but in his last five starts is 1-4-0 with a .863 save percentage and a 4.16 goals-against average.