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Barry Trotz considers drastic lineup change for pending return of Karl Alzner

Barry Trotz considers drastic lineup change for pending return of Karl Alzner

Thanks to the indestructibility of Alex Ovechkin, Karl Alzner remains the only Capitals' player out of the lineup due to injury. Alzner has not played since Game 2 on April 15 of Washington’s series against the Toronto Maple Leafs due to an upper-body injury. His absence in Game 3 was significant because it snapped an iron man streak of 599 consecutive starts for the veteran defenseman.

In a conference call with reporters on Saturday, Barry Trotz said that Alzner is “day to day and he’s improving.” That’s good news, but it does present an interesting dilemma for the Caps. Who comes out if Alzner goes in?

Nate Schmidt has played in relief of Alzner and played well. He has two assists in three games this postseason and scored a goal that was called back because of a controversial goalie interference call. His speed has also proven to be an asset against the speedy Maple Leafs and, should they get there, would also be useful in a second-round matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, another team that likes to push the pace.

RELATED: Capitals-Maple Leafs Game 6 how to watch

Alzner, however, is one of the team’s best defensive players. Washington’s play in the defensive zone has been suspect all series long and the Caps have allowed nine goals in the three games Alzner has been out.

To solve this dilemma, Trotz may make a fairly drastic change to the lineup when Alzner is finally ready to return.

When asked if he would consider using seven defensemen, Trotz did not hesitate with his answer, “Yes, I would.”

A typical lineup consists of 12 forwards (four lines of three) and six defensemen (three pairs of two). Dressing seven defensemen would mean dropping a forward and would represent a pretty dramatic shift considering Washington has not tried this sort of lineup at any point this season.

The benefit of dressing seven defensemen is flexibility. Trotz could use three pairs and use the extra as a situational player for power plays or penalty kills. He could also switch up his pairs depending on zone starts.

Someone would still have to come out of the lineup, but it would have to be a forward and, judging by ice time from the last two games, it’s not hard to figure out who that would be.

Brett Connolly played only 4:26 in Game 3 and 6:12 in Game 4.  He is the only player who did not get any playing time on special teams on Friday. When asked about Connolly’s playing time, Trotz said Thursday, “I felt that the way they were going in terms of the minutes, I just felt, I was going with the 10 or 11 guys we were going with.”

The downside of going with seven defensemen is that it creates uneven pairs and lines, but with Trotz essentially only utilizing 11 forwards anyway it is perhaps no surprise that Trotz would consider the move.

MORE CAPITALS: Trotz updates Ovechkin's status for Game 6

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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.

RELATED: SEE THE 3 STARS FROM CAPS-SABRES HERE

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.