Capitals coach Barry Trotz has been around hockey long enough to know not to mess with success, so there’s a good chance the Caps’ lineup will look the same tonight against the Canucks in Vancouver (10 p.m., CSN) as it did in Tuesday night’s 6-2 win over the Flames in Calgary.
“I think we’re playing a higher pace than we were the first couple games,” Trotz told reporters in Vancouver when asked about the Caps’ 4-1-0 start to the season. “I think we’re catching up to game speed a little bit and when we’re playing at game speed I think we can make some plays.
“Getting Backy back puts everybody in the right order.”
Before Nicklas Backstrom returned from offseason arthroscopic hip surgery on Saturday night, Trotz considered dozens of different line combinations. But instead of re-assembling all four lines, he left the top unit of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie and the checking unit of Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson untouched, while creating a new second line of Marcus Johansson, Backstrom and Justin Williams.
In the two games since Backstrom’s’ return, Ovechkin and Oshie each have two goals and one assist, Kuznetsov has three assists; Backstrom has three goals and two assists, Williams has two assists and Johansson has provided net-presence screens on three goals.
“I like the way the lines are right now,” Trotz said, noting Chimera’s “nail in the coffin” third-period goal against the Flames. “They’re playing quick. You can basically throw any line out there right now. They all kind of have their own unique qualities that make them good.”
While the Caps’ top line is built on power and skill, their second line possesses a blend of speed and defensive awareness, while their third line is a seek-and-destroy unit that can shut down some of the NHL’s top offensive units.
The Caps’ fourth line presents an interesting combination of speed and skill (Andre Burakovsky), grit along the walls (Brooks Laich) and defensive awareness (Chandler Stephenson).
Tonight in Vancouver look for the Beagle line to see a lot of the Canucks’ new top line of Daniel and Henrik Sedin with Radim Vrbata. Vrbata led the Canucks with 31 goals last season but has not found the net in six games this season.
Spreading ice time: The Caps’ penalty kill has been a perfect 7-for-7 the past three games and Trotz said a big reason is fresher legs.
Last season six forwards carried most of the penalty killing load, with Brooks Laich (2:10), Troy Brouwer (2:06), Jay Beagle (1:51), Joel Ward (1:39), Jason Chimera (1:23) and Eric Fehr (1:23) leading all forwards in shorthanded ice time.
This season, the Caps are trying to add Wilson to that forward rotation on kills. So far, shorthanded ice time has been spread among seven forwards like this: Laich (2:09), Beagle (1:53), Oshie (1:38), Williams (1:30), Backstrom (1:26), Chimera (1:22), Wilson (1:01).
“I think we have more guys doing it this year than last year,” Trotz said. “I’d like to go eight guys deep.”
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