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Coach Barry Trotz shuffles lines as Caps look to end slide in Edmonton

Coach Barry Trotz shuffles lines as Caps look to end slide in Edmonton

Coach Barry Trotz scrambled his forward lines ahead of Saturday’s game in Edmonton, where the Caps will be looking to stem a two-game slide against Connor McDavid and the Oilers (10 p.m. NBC Sports Washington).

Here’s how Trotz had his forwards lined up:

Ovechkin – Kuznetsov – Smith-Pelly

Vrana – Backstrom – Oshie

Stephenson – Eller – Wilson

Chiasson – Beagle – Peluso

Here’s what you need to know about that alignment:

  • Nicklas Backstrom appears set to return after missing Thursday’s game with an illness. Which, of course, is huge for a banged-up Caps' team that has been limited to two or fewer goals in four of the last five games.
  • Brett Connolly looks to be out after taking that big hit from Canucks Dman Erik Gudbranson. Connolly was placed in the concussion protocol after leaving Thursday's game in the second period. He could be out Sunday in Calgary, too.
  • A couple of days after Trotz hinted that he envisioned a promotion in Devante Smith-Pelly’s future, and that he suspected Smith-Pelly could complement “higher-end” players, we’re going to see top-six DSP for the first time. Chiasson skated with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov in Vancouver; now Chiasson is back on the fourth line.
  • Chandler Stephenson, who scored his first NHL goal in Vancouver, slides over to the wing and replaces Connolly on Lars Eller's line. Jakub Vrana, meantime, returns to the top-six.
  • Anthony Peluso, who was recalled from minor league Hershey, will skate on the fourth line. As I wrote Friday, part of the reason the Caps opted to recall Peluso as opposed to a prospect is this: he's played 142 NHL games and, at 6-3 and 225 pounds, can serve as a bit of deterrent vs. an Oilers’ team that’s got some ruggedness in Zack Kassian, Milan Lucic, etc. If things get rough, it also means Peluso—and not Tom Wilson—can answer the bell.   
  • Braden Holtby is expected to start, which could mean Philipp Grabauer will get the backend of back-to-back. Again.

 

RELATED: WITH THE INJURIES CONTINUING TO PILE UP, THE CAPS MAKE ANOTHER CALL-UP FROM HERSHEY

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NHL Power Rankings: The Caps are singing the bye week blues

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NHL Power Rankings: The Caps are singing the bye week blues

A Capitals team that struggles after lengthy breaks is now indeed struggling after its return from the bye week. Since returning on Thursday against the New Jersey Devils, the Caps have lost three straight games including two at home with only two points to show for their efforts.

Heading into the bye, Washington looked like one of the top teams in the NHL with 14 wins in 19 games. Now, they have taken a step back and are working at returning to the level they were playing just a week ago.

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

Oh, and to make matters worse, the Caps do not play again until Thursday and then are off for the All-Star break.

It's Jan. 22 and Washington has only two more games this month. Even if they do figure things out on Thursday against the Florida Panthers, they will have to figure it out all over again when they return from the All-Star break on Jan. 31 against the Philadelphia Flyers.

So where do the Caps rank after their recent slide and how far could they fall if they do not right the ship? Find out here in this week's NHL Power Rankings!

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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.

MORE CAPITALS: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FOR CAPS-FLYERS

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.