The Caps have stayed pretty consistent with their offensive lines this postseason, but if Friday's practice is any indication, that's about to change. Head coach Barry Trotz changed his offensive look as his team prepares for a critical Game 5 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Here's a look at the top three lines from practice on Friday:
Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky - Nicklas Backstrom - Marcus Johansson
Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Justin Williams
Evgeny Kuznetsov took line rushes on the top line at practice with Nicklas Backstrom moving down to the second. Trotz has matched his top line against the top lines of both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh this postseason with success...at least defensively. Sidney Crosby has only one point this series, but the trade-off has been less offensive production from the Caps' top weapons. T.J. Oshie managed a hat trick in Game 1, but since then Oveckin, Backstrom and Oshie have combined for only three points.
With both the power play and the secondary scoring dried up as well, the Caps need to find some way to spark their offense. Switching up the lines appears to be Trotz's solution.
"We've got last change so they give me a little different matchups," Trotz said. "We don't have anything to lose right now."
As the Caps return home for Game 5, they will get the last line change, allowing Trotz to get the matchups he wants more easily. If he does find success, it will be difficult to replicate that in Game 6 as Pittsburgh will get the last change, but right now the Caps are just focusing on getting to Game 6.
The move allows Trotz to continue matching Backstrom against Crosby while freeing up Ovechkin and Oshie. It also could spark more offense from Kuznetsov.
A year after a breakout postseason performance, Kuznetsov has been largely absent throught the playoffs with only two points, none of which came at even strength.
When asked about the move, Kuznetsov said he was comfortable playing with Ovechkin and it would be an easy adjustment for him.
"We know each other and we know what we need to do on ice and all," Kuznetsov said. "Maybe some small areas we will correct a little bit, but it's still same hockey. We just have to play our game."
Williams also moves down to the third line after a surprisingly rough postseason performance.
"I know I'm counted on to support this team offensively and defensively among other things so I certainly put onus on myself to be better," Williams said.
Williams has contributed four points in the playoffs, but he's also a career low minus-5 and has 12 penalty minutes in just 10 games.
The third line may change a bit for Game 5 as Mike Richards was not at practice. According to the team he was under the weather, but Trotz said he should be OK for Saturday. Whether he would take Jay Beagle's spot at third line center or move down to the fourth line remains to be seen. Richards has also underachieved this postseason with zero points.
"Using the other side of your brain once in a while when you get someone different in the lineup," Trotz said. "That's really what we're trying to do tomorrow."
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