As the saying goes, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
That was the mentality head coach Peter Laviolette took with him to the Capitals lineup on Tuesday against the Philadelphia Flyers. After three straight wins, Laviolette wanted only a minimal change to his lineup. He added Nicklas Backstrom back in, who missed Sunday's game due to body maintenance, but kept everything else the same.
The result? A nine-goal outburst in Washington's biggest offensive performance since 2008.
“We’re breaking out in the D zone as a group of five," T.J. Oshie said. "We’ve got a lot of guys since we talked have been putting their body on the line, blocking shots, keeping pucks out of our net, keeping second scoring chances from getting in the net. All that stuff translates and moves up the ice to our neutral-zone puck decisions to our forecheck and eventually it ends up in a goal, but there’s so much more than just the end result with the effort guys are putting in now in all facets of the game. So we’re trending in the right way and I think we’re learning what we need to do as players to have success on the ice."
While the Capitals are certainly still trying to move up the standings in the final weeks of the season, with a playoff spot already all but locked up, Laviolette also has to focus on finding his optimal lineup for the playoffs. A number of injuries through the season plus the addition of Johan Larsson and Marcus Johansson at the trade deadline means the lineup is still very much a work in progress. But the lines as currently constructed certainly seem to have caught fire.
One line Laviolette specifically did not want to change was Anthony Mantha, Lars Eller and Tom Wilson.
"After last game, we didn't touch that," Laviolette said. "Three of the lines stayed the same and Nick came back in and just filled into [Connor McMichael's] spot and just did the least amount of movement. What I like, I guess, about the Eller line is that they're big and they're strong. They can handle size. They still all have skill. They seem to have good chemistry in that first game and so we just left it alone."
On Tuesday, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Conor Sheary scored twice with a 5-on-5 Corsi percentage of 56.52. Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom and Oshie were the only Caps trio outshot at 5-on-5 with a 38.46 Corsi percentage, but still outscored the opposition 1-0.
Eller is doing what he can to solidify himself as a center again after a handful of games on the wing. Centering Wilson and Mantha, they had a 50% Corsi and outscored the opposition 2-1. Larsson, Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway were statistically the most dominant line with an 80% Corsi which led to outscoring the opposition 2-0.
"Lars has had some big games now," Laviolette said. "For Larsson to get on the board with a goal, guys contributing from different areas, that’s really good, I think the guys that typically put up a lot of points and contribute offensively are really happy when other guys can contribute too.”
If those are the kind of results you can expect from Tuesday's lineup, then it will be hard for Laviolette to change things up into the postseason.
The lines are certainly not perfect and they exclude McMichael who was a healthy scratch Tuesday. He is a player who, though he has struggled winning puck battles and finishing plays, has clearly established himself as one of the team's top 12 forwards at the very least. The hard part is finding where he fits in when the rest of the lineup is playing this well.
"To get the forwards as healthy as we've been in a while and to be able to sit on those lines, I thought it was really good," Laviolette said. "It seemed like we got good zone time from all the lines. It seemed to be a good click with chemistry to it."