After his team fell behind three games to one with a pair of one-goal losses in Pittsburgh, Capitals coach Barry Trotz knew he’d need to shake things up for Saturday night’s critical Game 5.
He did just that, moving center Evgeny Kuznetsov to a top line with Alex Ocvechkin and T.J. Oshie, dropping Nicklas Backstrom to a second line with Marcus Johansson and Andre Burakovsky; promoting Jay Beagle to a third line with Jason Chimera and Justin Williams, and dropping Mike Richards to a fourth line with Daniel Winnik and Tom Wilson.
Ovechkin drew a hooking penalty on Bryan Rust that led to his own power play goal, Wilson drew a slashing penalty that led to a power-play goal by Oshie; Williams scored an even-strength goal that gave the Caps a two-goal lead, and Backstrom helped keep the Penguins off the board at even strength.
“If we’re going to be successful in this series we’re going to need everybody chipping in and producing,” Trotz told reporters Sunday on a conference call. “There are some dymamic players like (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin and Kuznetsov and Backstrom and sometimes they nullify each other, so your depth down the lineup can be the difference between winning and losing.”
Through five games in this second-round series, which continues Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center with the Penguins holding a 3-2 series lead, Crosby has just two assists and Malkin has just one goal and one assist. Meanwhile, Ovechkin has two goals and three assists and Oshie has four goals and one assist.
But if the Capitals hope to bring the series back to Washington for a decisive Game 7 nearly everyone agrees they’ll need better production from their leading scorer in the regular season.
Kuznetsov has just one assist and is a minus-2 in the series. In 11 playoff games this year he has one goal on 33 shots, with one assist and a minus-4 rating. By comparison, in 14 playoff games last year Kuznetsov produced five goals on 42 shots, with two assists and a plus-4 rating.
“I think his game through the playoffs hasn’t been to the level we saw last year,” Trotz said. “At the same time he’s been paid a little more attention than he was last year. I think his game is coming around. I think it was very encouraging (Saturday) night, the way he played. Obviously, the change of him playing with Alex and T.J., that line was real strong (Saturday) night. From my standpoint, I expect Kuzy will be productive. He’s too good of a player not to be.”
Up until Game 4, the same could have been said of Williams, who looked a step behind everyone else and committed some uncharacteristic turnovers in his first eight playoff games with the Capitals, when he had one assist and was a minus-6 in six games against the Flyers and the first two against the Pens.
But in Games 3, 4 and 5, Williams recorded two goals, one assist, 10 shots and was a plus-2.
“Early in the playoffs Justin got a little frustrated with not getting a lot of production,” Trotz said. “I thought that line (Saturday) night was effective. They got a big insurance goal for us, but I thought they were on the puck last night, Justin can drive whatever line he’s on. His skill set is a lot those intangibles, but he can play a small-area game and when (pucks) turn over he can make things happen for us.”