The Washington Capitals took the ice for practice on Tuesday and sported completely new lines from when they beat the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday night.
Three of the team’s four forward trios saw major changes as head coach Peter Laviolette seeks to find the right balance after the returns of Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson from injury.
Laviolette spoke with the media about his thought process after practice.
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“Because of the changes of the two guys coming back, [we’re] trying to keep some things the same and focus more on pairs,” Laviolette said. “Kuzy and Ovi being together. Dowder and Hath, although Jojo has played well on that line. Backe and Oshie have played together.
“Just trying to find something that has some history to it and then trying to find the right piece to go with it,” he continued. “We come out of the one game and I don’t think it was as pressing as I would have liked to have seen offensively so we’ll move it around.”
Since Laviolette took charge of the Caps, Alex Ovechkin has played almost exactly 1,400 minutes at five-on-five with Evgeny Kuznetsov. Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway have been even more inseparable as they’ve skated 1,409 minutes together. Nicklas Backstrom and TJ Oshie, partially due to injury, come in last among the pairs mentioned at 479 minutes of shared ice.
Those combos combined have outscored opponents 162 to 126 in those five-on-five minutes. That’s a goals-for percentage of 56.3%. That would currently rank third in the NHL.
“[We’ll] try to keep some pairs the same but move them around and try and find the right pieces to go with that,” Laviolette finished.
The most puzzling change comes in Lars Eller, the team’s normal third-line center. Eller has been moved up into the top six but as a left wing next to Backstrom and Oshie. He will be replaced down the middle by Dylan Strome who played on the wing against the Blue Jackets.
“We had Stromer at center, now maybe Lars moves over to the wing,” Laviolette said Tuesday. “We were talking about that and wanted to see it today in practice.
“He’s played there before,” he continued. “I talked to him about it this morning. I thought he looked really good out there. It looked like he was jumpin’ and playing with a couple of really good players that he probably has some familiarity with. Lars is a smart guy. He’s a guy that we count on to kill penalties and win a game at the end when we’re up a goal. I’m sure he’ll be able to pick things up.”
Eller has played the wing under Laviolette in the past. Last season it came exclusively in a bottom-six role either next to Connor McMichael or Nic Dowd. It’s something that Eller has said he can do but isn’t exactly the biggest fan of.
“It’s probably been like six years or something since I played there,” Eller said last March. “I have played there before so it’s not like completely new to me but obviously, I’m more comfortable at center. But you have to be able to adapt and it’s a good thing to be versatile, bring value to a team to be able to play more positions and up and down the lineup. If that’s what it’s going to be I have to try to do my best there.”
If the lines stay together for the morning skate on Wednesday, the Caps will get a first chance to test out them out on the road against the Philadelphia Flyers later that night.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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