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Trotz unveils Caps' power play and penalty kill units

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Trotz unveils Caps' power play and penalty kill units

On Monday, Coach Barry Barry Trotz showed us what he’s thinking about for opening night forward lines and D pairs.

On Tuesday, he showed us what he’s thinking about for special team units.

The first power play unit featured forwards Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom and defenseman John Carlson.

The second power play unit had forwards Andre Burakovsky, Jakub Vrana and Brett Connolly as well as defensemen Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov.

“We want to get something sorta in place,” Trotz said of the power play configurations. “That’s maybe where we’ll to try to start. That's really the first idea. …Yeah, you can read into it.”

RELATED: WHY TOM WILSON'S SUSPENSION MATTERS

The Caps have three preseason games remaining; the regular season begins Oct. 5 in Ottawa.

Tuesday's first power play unit had Kuznetsov in the spot vacated by Marcus Johansson, who was traded to the Devils in July. While it’s a promotion for Kuznetsov, it leaves the second unit without a center.

“That’s the negative,” Trotz said of promoting the Russian pivot to unit No. 1.

To that point, Trotz said Connolly will take the right side faceoffs and Burakovsky will take the left side draws.

For Connolly, starting the season with a full-time role on the power play unit represents a signficant step up in terms of responsibility. Last season, he scored once on the man advantage but was used sparingly.

“Conno is an instinctive goalscorer,” Trotz said. “He’s got a really good, quick release.”

Connolly, who was positioned on the goal line on Tuesday, added: “It’s obviously a great opportunity. I’ve had this opportunity before and I had to work hard to get that again. So I want to take advantage of it.”  

Trotz also put on display what he’s thinking about for his penalty kill units. The first forward pair was Tom Wilson and Lars Eller, while the second pair was Tyler Graovac and Jay Beagle.

One defensive pair on the penalty kill was Brooks Orpik and rookie Madison Bowey. (The primary penalty-killing D were probably being used on the power play in Tuesday’s drills.)

What stood out about the penalty kill groupings was Graovac’s continued ascension on the depth chart following his breakout performance in Friday’s preseason game against the Blues. Graovac was not used on the penalty kill last season in Minnesota, but Trotz likes his mobility and, at 6 foot 5, his long reach. From an Xs and Os standpoint, Trotz also likes the flexibility of having Graovac and Beagle, a pair of natural centers, on the same PK pair for faceoffs.

“He’s got some reach—that’s an advantage for a penalty killer,” Trotz said of Graovac. “He did a really good job in penalty kill situations in his first two [preseason] games, and faceoffs were a big component of that.”

Trotz added: “They sort themselves out as they go along. We’ll see if he can sustain his first two games.”

The Caps also worked on shootouts, with Oshie, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Burakovsky and Ovechkin taking reps.

MORE CAPITALS: TOM WILSON'S NOT GOING TO CHANGE HIS GAME EVEN AFTER THE SUSPENSION

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Caps' Barry Trotz forced to change up defense lineups

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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. ”

RELATED: Andre Burakovsky's first NHL fight

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.

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