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Barry Trotz has a plan to reignite T.J. Oshie's scoring spark

Barry Trotz has a plan to reignite T.J. Oshie's scoring spark

In an effort to jumpstart T.J. Oshie, Coach Barry Trotz reunited the star winger with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the Caps’ top line Wednesday.

Trotz said he hasn’t decided if the move will stick—the team doesn’t play again until Sunday—but it’s clear he’s trying to get Oshie going again.

Oshie hit the ice earlier than most of his teammates Wednesday morning at Kettler Capitals Iceplex to get in some extra stickhandling and shooting reps. After a few minutes, Trotz skated over to Oshie and the two had a long talk along the boards.

“He told me I was going with the big two guys, and I told him that I thought Devo and Tom probably deserved to play there,” Oshie said, referring to Devante Smith-Pelly and Tom Wilson, both of whom have played well on the right side of the first line this season.

With 11 goals, Oshie sits third on the Caps behind Ovechkin (26) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (12). But it’s been a bit of a struggle of lately. In fact, he’s got just one point—a goal—since returning from a concussion seven games ago. Against New Jersey last Saturday, he played a season-low 12:10—3:30 off his season average.

“Things aren’t really going my way right now; I’m not really playing my best,” Oshie said. “But I’m working hard and doing a lot of the little things good. So, we’ll see. I’m sure playing with those two guys never hurts.”

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After practice, Oshie said he thought his first practice back with Ovechkin and Backstrom went smoothly. But he also expressed disappointment over the fact that he couldn’t find chemistry with Kuznetsov and Jakub Vrana on the second line.

“It’s a little frustrating,” Oshie said. “We’re three pretty good players [and] we couldn’t figure a way to bring some offense to the team. But fortunately for us, a lot of other guys are playing really well right.”

Moving Oshie up to the first line wasn’t the only change on the right side of the forward combos. Oshie bumped Smith-Pelly down to the third line, while Wilson moved up to the second. (Earlier this week, Trotz mentioned how Wilson has sparked every line he’s joined this season, so perhaps he’s hoping No. 43 can kick-start Kuznetsov and Vrana, as well.)

RELATED: OVECHKIN EARNS ALL-STAR CAPTAINCY

Will the changes have the desired effect? Will Trotz even stick with them until the next game? Because the Caps don’t play again until St. Louis comes to town for a matinee on Sunday, that all remains unclear. But we could get a strong indication of Trotz’s thought process on Thursday. Indeed, if Oshie practices on the top line again, that’s likely where he’ll play against the Blues.

Trotz has in recent days acknowledged that Oshie has “had a couple games that were not Oshie-like.” On Wednesday, however, he attempted to downplay the decision to reunite Oshie with Ovechkin and Backstrom, adding that he’s not overly concerned about the 31-year-old’s play.

“That was just for practice,” Trotz said. “We’re just looking at different things.”

He added: “He’s an absolute pro in what he’s doing. Just like anything, they all work their way through stuff. That’s why they’re good. That’s the process. …I’m not too worried about Osh.”

Oshie also sounded confident that he’ll be able to find his own way out of this dry spell, just as he’s done previously over the course of his 10-year NHL career.  

“We’ll see what happens,” he said of the lines. “I’m not too worried about it, though. We’ve still got a long ways to go. It’s not the first time I went a couple of games without scoring. Still having fun, still working hard.”

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Think Jakub Vrana's ice time shows Barry Trotz was unhappy with his play? Think again

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Think Jakub Vrana's ice time shows Barry Trotz was unhappy with his play? Think again

It was a bit of a surprise to see Jakub Vrana in the lineup against the Philadelphia Flyers. On Saturday in practice, Barry Trotz mixed his lines up and it appeared that Vrana would be the odd-man out. On Sunday, however, when the team took to the ice for warmups prior to the game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Vrana lined up on the fourth line with Jay Beagle and Devante Smith-Pelly.

Did the near scratch spark Vrana to more production? Not exactly.

RELATED: HERE'S WHY THE CAPS LOST TO PHILADELPHIA

Vrana played a career-low 6:25 against the Flyers. He had zero shot attempts or hits. There were only two stats on his stat line from the final box score: One giveaway and one drawn penalty.

Despite that, Trotz was complimentary of the 21-year-old forward following the game.

"What I like about Jake, he competed," Trotz said. "I know he doesn't have the minutes tonight, but he competed and that's what the message was. I met with him this morning and a little bit on the ice the other day and I just said the skill doesn't come out unless that level of desperation and compete is there night in, night out and then you'll have production. He didn't get a lot of ice time, but I was happy with his effort."

Trotz said Vrana's ice time was low because he the team was "hard matching" later in the game against Philadelphia. It was not because of how he played.

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But ultimately, the key is to get Vrana producing again and the fourth line is not the best place to spark that. Vrana has only one point in his last 12 games which is why it seemed to make sense that he would be a healthy scratch on Sunday. For a player with his offensive skill, it is harder for him to make an impact on that back line given the limited minutes and the more defensive role. Ultimately he has to play in the top-nine in order to reach his potential on a game by game basis.

If Trotz wanted to spark more compete and more effort from Vrana, the move to the fourth line may have done the trick. But did he play well enough to warrant moving back into the top-nine? That's the ultimate question.

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4 reasons the Caps lost to the Flyers

4 reasons the Caps lost to the Flyers

The Capitals never gained possession of the puck in overtime on Sunday before Travis Konecny scored the game-winner. Despite playing better than they had in their previous two games, Washington still walked away with a 2-1 loss at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers and only one point to show for their effort. Here are four reasons why.

A blown 2-on-1

Alex Ovechkin made a great defensive play in the first period with a steal high in the defensive zone to launch himself and Evgeny Kuznetsov on a 2-on-1. Ovechkin took the first shot which was saved by Brian Elliott. The rebound went right to Kuznetsov who was in position to tap it into the empty net, but instead, he sent the puck right back to Elliott. To be fair, it was a bit of a difficult angle for Kuznetsov, but that's a play that has to result in a goal, especially in a game as close as this one.

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Brian Elliott

Elliott had a fantastic game as he denied the Caps on 27 of their 28 shots, many of which were very quality scoring opportunities. Two saves in particular stood out starting with a save on Ovechkin in the first period. The Great 8 was all alone in the slot, but Elliott managed to get in front of the puck and send up and over the net. In the second period, he made another dynamic save as he denied Nicklas Backstrom with the pad when the Caps' center managed to get his stick on the puck in the slot.

A lost faceoff in overtime

Many people wondered why Alex Ovechkin was not on the ice to start overtime, but it was another player's absence that really cost them: Jay Beagle. Beagle's faceoff win percentage of 57.5-percent puts him among the top faceoff men in the league, but Kuznetsov was the first center for the extra session. Sean Couturier beat Kuznetsov on the faceoff to start overtime and the Caps never gained possession at any point before Travis Konecny fired the game-winner past Holtby. Beagle is not the type of player you would typically want out on overtime, but when one possession can cost you the game as it did on Sunday, perhaps the Caps need to get him out there just for the opening faceoff to give themselves a better shot at gaining the first possession and thus a better chance of winning the game.

A neutral zone misplay by John Carlson

If you are going to try to hit a player with the puck in the neutral zone, you better make sure he doesn't get past you or you have put your team in a tough position. That is exactly what happened in overtime when Carlson attempted to pin Konecny along the boards. Konecny squeezed his way through the hip check immediately creating a 2-on-1 opportunity for the Flyers which he would turn into the game-winning goal.