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With the Caps scuffling, Coach Barry Trotz shook things up Friday

With the Caps scuffling, Coach Barry Trotz shook things up Friday

With his team mired in an offensive funk, Barry Trotz did something he’s avoided for months: the Capitals’ head coach changed up his forward lines.

Here’s how the combinations looked during practice on Friday in El Segundo, Calif.:

Johansson-Backstrom-Oshie

Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Wilson

Connolly-Eller-Williams

Winnik-Beagle-Vrana

The highlights included Alex Ovechkin being dropped from the first line to the second, Wilson being promoted from the fourth line to the second and Williams moving from the second line to the third.

Why the drastic changes? Well, the NHL-best Caps have scored just 22 goals since returning from the bye week 10 games ago (2.2 goals per game). In the 10 games prior to that five-day hiatus, T.J. Oshie and Co. scored 43 goals (4.3 per).

Overall, Washington has lost two games in a row and is just 5-4-1 since the bye.

Trotz told reporters that he hopes the moves stir some “interest” amongst the forwards.

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“I think we’ve gone a little stale,” Trotz said. “Sometimes a little change [and] you’ll get a little spark. Sometimes you get a new linemate or a couple of new linemates, so there’s a little more communication. You're working through stuff rather than just going through it. So, hopefully, that will spark a little bit of interest and production.”

Although he didn’t single out anyone, a quick glance at the game logs reveal the players Trotz is attempting to jumpstart. Ovechkin has no goals in the last eight games and just one in the last 12. Justin Williams has no goals in the last six games and just one in the last 13 games. Meantime, Lars Eller has just one point in the last eight games, while Evgeny Kuznetsov has one in the last four.

On Saturday, Washington faces Los Angeles at Staples Center. The Kings are clinging to their playoff lives while the Caps will be looking to avoid losing three straight games in regulation for the first time since Feb. 2015.

Will the new lines do the trick? It’s worked in the past, Trotz noted.

“What I’ve learned with this group is we move them around and they sort of find their way a little bit,” he said. “And then you can always go back to the old reliable lines, and at some point, we’ll probably do that. But right now we need a little spark and a little interest and a little more production 5-on-5.”   

The defense pairs were unchanged.

MORE CAPITALS: Q&A - ARE THE CAPITALS REPEATING THEMSELVES?

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Caps' Barry Trotz forced to change up defense lineups

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USA Today Sports Images

Caps' Barry Trotz forced to change up defense lineups

Lars Eller did not practice on Monday, and coach Barry Trotz shuffled his injury-depleted defense corps.

Here’s how everyone lined up:

Forwards

Burakovsky – Backstrom – Oshie

Ovechkin – Kuznetsov – Vrana

Connolly – Graovac – Wilson

Smith-Pelly – Beagle – Chiasson

Walker

Defense

Orpik – Bowey

Djoos – Carlson

Orlov – Chorney

Ness

Goalies

Holtby

Grubauer

RELATED: Caps destroyed by Flyers in lopsided road loss

Some notes, quotes and observations from KCI:

  • Trotz said Eller showed up sick and was sent home to recover and avoid spreading whatever he’s got. Trotz also isn’t sure whether the veteran center will be able to suit up against Toronto on Tuesday. “I don’t know,” he said. “I can’t answer that right now. We’ll see where his energy level is.”

 

  • The coaching staff shuffled the D-pairs with speedy Toronto coming to town. But Trotz also cautioned not to read too much into the tandems, since they’re likely to change throughout Tuesday’s game. Trotz even hinted that a final decision on which six D-men will suit up had not yet been made. “They’re going to be shuffled from now until we get people back,” Trotz said, referring to the injured Matt Niskanen, who is week-to-week with an upper body injury. “There are pairs for practice. There are pairs for parts of games. It’ll be a little bit situational.”

 

  • If defenseman Taylor Chorney does get back into the lineup, he knows that he needs to make a positive impression after sitting out the last three games as a healthy scratch. “I’ve been through this quite a bit over the last couple of years, but at the same time you probably want to make a little bit of a statement,” he acknowledged. “So for me, if I do get the opportunity to play, it would be a big game.”  

 

  • Speaking of the Leafs, they’re off to a 4-1-0 start with Auston Matthews (5 goals, including two OT winners) leading the way. Overall, Toronto is averaging a league-leading 5.2 goals per game. As you might imagine, Trotz had a lot of praise for last season’s first round opponent in general and Matthews specifically. “If he was playing 20 years ago, we’d be saying he’s Mario Lemieux-like,” Trotz said. “He’s six-foot-[three]. He skates great. He’s got unbelievable hands. And a hockey I.Q. and he’s strong on the puck.”  

 

  • As Washington attempts to turn the page from Saturday’s 8-2 clunker in Philly, Trotz said one area he’d like to see shored up is the number of shots the Caps have been allowing. Through six games, they’re yielding 34.5 shots on goal per game (tied for ninth most). Last year, they allowed 27.8 (fourth best). “We’re not as structured defensively,” Trotz said. “We haven’t put as big an emphasis this year as we did last year. We’ve put a little more emphasis on trying to replace some of the goals that we lost. But right now we have to get a little more balance. …We have to get that back into balance; we practiced some of that today.”

 

  • As you may remember, Madison Bowey’s father, Will, jumped on the first flight out of British Columbia that he could find in the hopes of catching his son’s NHL debut Saturday night at Wells Fargo Center. As it turned out, though, he experienced a couple of travel delays and didn’t make it. Dad will, however, be in attendance Tuesday night.

 

MORE CAPS: Nicklas Backstrom shines among NHL's top stars

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Capitals' Nicklas Backstrom named one of NHL's 3 stars for standout week

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Capitals' Nicklas Backstrom named one of NHL's 3 stars for standout week

Nicklas Backstrom has been the Capitals’ best player so far this season, according to coach Barry Trotz. And he was recognized for his play on Monday when the NHL named him third star of the week.

No one had more points over the past week than the Caps’ star center, who racked up three goals and six assists in four games.

Trotz praised Backstrom for his point production — and his play on the other side of the puck.   

“He’s been really good,” Trotz said. “Nick has been all business. He’s playing very well. He’s been our best player, no question, with balance in his game. Nick’s balance in his game is really good—on my soap box again—and that’s what makes him one of the best two-way centermen in the National Hockey League. ”

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Last season, Backstrom didn’t get his third goal until the 16th game (en route to a 23-goal campaign). In six games this season, the 29-year-old has three goals and eight helpers.

First star of the week was Winnipeg winger Nikolaj Ehlers (five goals, two assists), while Toronto center Auston Matthews (four goals, including two OT winners) received second star honors.

On Tuesday at Capital One Arena, it’ll be second star versus third star as Matthews and the Leafs take on on Backstrom’s Caps.

MORE CAPS: How the Caps flopped in Philly