The Washington Capitals took the ice at MedStar Capitals Iceplex on Monday for the first time following their embarrassing 4-1 defeat to the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2023 Stadium Series game.
The ugly outing on Saturday was exacerbated by the fact that it was the Capitals’ fourth regulation loss in a row, moving the team out of a playoff spot.
Due to that, Caps head coach Peter Laviolette has put his forward lines and defense pairings into a blender for Monday’s practice.
The Washington Post’s Roman Stubbs reported those changes. The new lineup is as follows.
Sonny Milano, Lars Eller, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, and Matt Irwin all played in Saturday’s loss and are no longer guaranteed spots in the lineup for the team’s next game. Every single line and defensive pairing bar one has also changed.
Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson have stuck together on the team’s de facto top line but Conor Sheary is the new final piece of that trio. Sheary and Kuznetsov have played over 200 minutes together at five-on-five this season and it’s been an almost entirely unsuccessful match at least process-wise. The Caps have seen just 47.9 percent of the shot attempts, 45.5 percent of the expected goals, 49.2 percent of the scoring chances, and 43.8 percent of the high-danger chances.
However, the Caps have out-scored opponents 13 to 7 during that same timeframe. That mainly comes down to the fact that they are shooting 12.2 percent in those minutes and getting a 93.1 save percentage from their netminders.
The team’s second line is the only one fully sticking together. Sheary’s move to the top line means that Milano is now involved in a battle with Lars Eller for the left-wing spot on the third line. The winner there will skate with Swedish duo Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson. Milano recorded his 15th assist of the season on Wilson’s outdoor goal on Saturday. Per Caps PR, Milano’s 23 points (8g, 15a) since November 5 ranks tied for fifth on the team.
The main positive news from practice is that Nic Dowd has finally stripped his non-contact jersey. Dowd has been in the mix at practice for a full week now. He has retaken his regular spot on the fourth line next to good buddy Garnet Hathaway. NAK or Aliaksei Protas will be the final factor on that line. Laviolette would be smart to go with Protas there.
With Protas playing with Dowd and Hathaway at five-on-five this season, the Caps have gotten 54.8 percent of the shot attempts, 63.3 percent of the expected goals, 57.9 percent of the scoring chances, and 61 percent of the high-danger chances.
The defense pairings were not spared either. Every single one of them was changed. Dmitry Orlov was separated from his longtime partner Nick Jensen as the two mightily struggled against Carolina. With Jensen on the ice at five-on-five in that game, the Caps were out-attempted 24 to 7, out-scoring chanced 15 to 2, out-high danger chanced 9 to 0, and were scored on twice.
Orlov is now skating on the first pairing with Trevor van Riemsdyk and Jensen with Martin Fehervary.
Erik Gustafsson is now back on the third pairing which is where his first season with the Caps started. He’ll line up next to recent Hershey recall, for the third time this season, Dylan McIlrath. McIlrath made his Capitals debut in last week’s 6-3 loss to the Florida Panthers. He was a minus-two in that matchup.
The Caps get back to action on Tuesday against the Detroit Red Wings at Capital One Arena. Detroit is just two points behind the Caps in the standings with three games in hand.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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