Capitals

Capitals

The Nashville Predators took their first lead of the game on Monday in the second period when Frederick Gaudreau managed to chip a puck in over the shoulder of goalie Braden Holtby.

A one-goal deficit in the second period is not insurmountable for any team in the NHL, but especially not for the Alex Ovechkin-led Capitals.

Yet, this time there were no heroics from the NHL’s leading goal-scorer. There was no hat trick to carry the team to the victory, or a single goal to tie the game for the team to rally around.

Washington would ultimately fall 6-3 as Nashville snapped a six-game losing streak. Ovechkin, meanwhile, saw his goalless streak extend to six games, his longest drought of the season.

"It's OK,” Ovechkin said after the game. “It's the end of the year, you know? Tomorrow is going to be a new day, a new year and new hockey."

Ovechkin’s pace to start the season was untenable, and there was always going to come a time in which the goals became harder to come by. His current cold streak is not particularly concerning.

What is concerning, however, is the fact that the entire top line is struggling to produce as well.

T.J. Oshie returned to the lineup on Dec. 11 after recovering from a concussion. He was immediately placed onto the top line to play alongside Ovechkin and Backstrom.

 

Since then, the results have been underwhelming. The last even strength goal scored by Ovechkin, Backstrom or Oshie was actually Ovechkin’s last goal, which came on Dec. 14 against the Buffalo Sabres.

That means not only is Ovechkin on a six-game slump, the entire line is. In the past six games, that line has combined for just five even strength points and no goals.

Head coach Todd Reirden noticed the top line was struggling on Monday and started shuffling things up, playing Ovechkin with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson late in the game.

“Obviously, those prior lines were very successful for us for a while there,” Reirden said. “That’s the ebbs and flows of the season. We have to look at making an adjustment there and continue to figure out what works best for us on a given night.”

Is this just a slump for that top trio that Reirden should allow them to play through? Perhaps. Ovechkin, Backstrom and Oshie are all talented players, so it is fair to believe that finding their production is more a matter of when and not if.

Then again, perhaps not.

One thing that jumps out when watching Ovechkin, Backstrom and Oshie play is that this is a line that lacks speed. That’s not to say any of those three players are particularly slow, but as a line they lack the game-changing speed that has become so crucial in today’s NHL.

I do not believe it is a coincidence that Ovechkin’s worst drought of the season has suddenly come with this line combination. Even when the top line was cycling through right wings during Wilson’s suspension, Ovechkin was still finding ways to get the puck into the back of the net.

The Caps found tremendous success last season when Ovechkin began playing with Kuznetsov and Wilson. Putting that line back together would not only bring Kuznetsov’s speed to the top line, but it would also put Backstrom and Oshie with Jakub Vrana, another speedy forward making both lines more versatile than the ones we have seen of late.

We know those lines can be successful together because we have already seen it when the competition was at its absolute best last season in the 2018 playoffs.

While Backstrom has been the more consistent center this season over Kuznetsov, it may be time to reunite the top line that dominated the postseason last year.

Said Reirden, “We’ll continue to re-watch the film and see what ways we can be better and what combinations will work best for us moving forward.

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