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Backstrom on the Caps' new lines: 'He’s trying to wake us up'

Backstrom on the Caps' new lines: 'He’s trying to wake us up'

Capitals Coach Barry Trotz has a tendency to tinker with his forward combinations when they aren’t performing as optimally as they should.

On Monday, he blew up them up.

In case you missed our previous post on the matter, here’s how the forwards lined up and, presumably, how they’ll start Tuesday night’s game in Columbus:





Trotz said he chose to make radical changes to the lines for a couple of reasons. No. 1, he wanted more balance up front. And, No. 2, he wanted to reward the forwards he believes are giving it their all.

“One thing that resonates with me a lot is that you have to have a balance of will and skill,” Trotz said. “And sometimes we forget that we need the will and the skill to work together. We made a lot changes, even for my standards. But at the same time, the players that have played well are going to move up and get an opportunity. And you never know, you put lines together and sometimes those combinations that you think would never work [actually] work. So I put some balance and will and skill on each line, and hopefully it will work. …All the lines have a unique quality to them.”

Especially the first line, which now features Beagle centering Ovechkin. Beagle, the team’s full-time fourth line pivot, scored two goals in Friday’s 3-2 overtime win in Chicago.

“You got a lot of skill and a lot of will,” Trotz said of teamming Ovechkin and Beagle together. “Hopefully they can help each other, that combination.”

The shakeup comes two days after the Capitals’ humbling 5-1 loss to the Hurricanes in Raleigh. But this was about more than just one bad game.

The Capitals are 16th in the NHL in goals per game, despite one of the most talented groups of forwards in the league.

It’s collective problem. But it’s an individual one, too. Several top forwards are off to slow starts. Andre Burakovsky hasn’t scored since potting a pair in the opener. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored his second goal of the season Saturday, but it was just his third tally in 35 regular season contests dating to last season. Meanwhile, Justin Williams and Nicklas Backstrom have scored just one goal apiece.   

“I think honestly he’s trying to wake us up here, especially the top players, including myself,” Backstrom said. “We got to get going here. We got to start playing better. We got to be better, create more chances, produce more and help the team more.”

Beagle concurred with Backstrom’s assessment.

“It is a little bit of a wake up,” Beagle said. “Shake things up. We haven’t been playing to our capability for five games. It’s not as good as we should be. And everyone knows it. We know it more than anyone. We can feel it. This is to shake it up a bit and to kinda get guys going.”

Brett Connolly said it’s too early to be overly concerned, though he agreed that it’s past time for the forwards raise their level of play.

“I don’t think we’ve played our best really yet,” he said. "But that’s the thing—we’re still 9-4. So it’s kinda hard to really get too, too mad at ourselves. But I think we have so much talent that we’re winning games on our talent and I think we just have to get dirtier and just raise the bar a little bit. It’s still really early. There’s 70-ish games left. I think it’s good to get a bit of a wakeup call early.”

RELATED: Trotz confirms both goaltenders will play next two games

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3 reasons the Caps beat the Sabres

3 reasons the Caps beat the Sabres

The Caps could not shake Buffalo for two periods, but a dominant finish on Saturday helped them pull away for a 5-1 win. Here's how they finally put away the Sabres.

A quick start

Strong starts go a long way towards helping a team in the middle of a slump. It's a confidence boost for a group in desperate need of one and the Caps got that boost on Saturday from Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov used his wheels to zip in behind the defense and score just 50 seconds into the game. Washington led 1-0 at the end of the first, just the second time in 19 games they have held a lead after the opening 20 minutes.


Andre Burakovsky snapping a second period slump

It looked in the second period like the Caps were caught trying to protect the lead again, but Andre Burakovsky woke the team back up with his incredible highlight end-to-end goal. It really looked like Buffalo was going to tie the game at one, but instead, Burakovsky extended the lead to two. Going end to end the way he did shows a player who is starting to play with some confidence, something Burakovsky has lacked for much of the season.

Ovechkin's two-goal third period

Buffalo would not go away. Sam Reinhart got the Sabres on the board just 14 seconds into the third period and suddenly the Caps found themselves in a one-goal game again. But Ovechkin ended any hopes for the comeback as he struck in the top corner of the net on the power play from the office. He would later add a deflection goal to extend the lead to 5-1, giving a scuffling Washington team the dominant win they so sorely needed.

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3 stars of the game: Caps erupt in 3rd for dominant win over Sabres

3 stars of the game: Caps erupt in 3rd for dominant win over Sabres

The Capitals needed a win in the worst way and they got one, dispatching the Buffalo Sabres in dominating fashion with a 5-1 win.

Washington was locked in a tight game leading 2-0 heading into the third period when Sam Reinhart scored just 14 seconds into the period to pull Buffalo to within one. The Caps then slammed the door shut, scoring three unanswered goals to put away the Sabres.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Alex Ovechkin: This was career game No. 983 for Ovechkin, tying him for the franchise record for most games played with Calle Johansson. Ovechkin very fittingly celebrated the occasion with two goals. The first came on a power play goal from the office, but there was no need for a one-timer on this one. The Sabres gave him all the time he needed to aim up the shot and wrist it into the top corner.

He added a second goal late off a deflection from a John Carlson shot.

2. Evgeny Kuznetsov: To say the Caps have struggled at the start of games would be an understatement. In the last 18 games, Washington has held the lead after the first period only once. Kuznetsov made sure this game started off on the right foot as he scored just 50 seconds into the game. He turned on the jets in the neutral zone to turn the edge on Jason Pominville then easily skated around a weak, ill-advised challenge from Robin Lehner before flinging the puck into the yawning net.

It was the fastest goal to start a game by the Caps this season. It was just the start of what would be a four-point night for the Caps' center as he added three assists.

3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky had the highlight of the game with his end-to-end goal in the second period to put Washington up 2-0. He looked like he was shot out of a cannon as he launched himself from the defensive zone, streaked down the center of the ice and in on net to slide the puck through the Lehner's five-hole.

Look how Burakovsky was able to slice through the Sabres' defense. Buffalo had him surrounded, but his speed caught the Sabres off-guard and they were not able to recover in time to actually slow him down.