With the Capitals’ offense sputtering and a two-goal deficit on the scoreboard, coach Peter Laviolette made the decision to juggle the lines entering the third period.
In doing so, they landed with a trio of Hendrix Lapierre, Connor McMichael and Brett Leason — all of whom are rookies — in the mix to try and tie the game.
The Capitals didn’t tie it and lost 2-1. But the all-rookie trio scored the lone goal and gave a fun, and at the same time sobering, glimpse of what the future might look like for the Capitals.
“It’s definitely in your mind because we’re all young, we’re all trying to prove something here,” Leason said of the rookies. “But I think it’s just the coach is calling us at that time and you’ve got to go out and do what we can to help the team.”
With Leason’s tally 6:02 into the third period, the Capitals found themselves right back in the game. A slick feed from McMichael found its way to Leason’s stick and over the left shoulder of Flyers goalie Martin Jones.
“I thought in the third, that line was good,” Laviolette said. “I thought we got going a little bit more.”
The young trio was an exciting look, indeed, but the reasoning for needing three rookies in the lineup is far more troubling.
The Capitals are without Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and Anthony Mantha for week-to-week injuries. Both Oshie and Mantha are on injured reserve, while Backstrom is on long-term injured reserve. Backstrom has yet to skate with the team this season.
To start Saturday’s game, the Capitals kept their first line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson together. They did the same with their fourth line of Carl Hagelin, Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway. But after two uninspiring periods, the switches were made.
“Well the third period was our best period,” Laviolette said. “We got moving. We were sleeping in the first and we got outworked in the second so the third period I thought was our best period. We started getting it behind them a little bit more, playing in the offensive zone and generating some chances.”
Meaning, that with three top-six forwards out of the lineup, it’s possible (if not likely) there’ll be more looks at rookies in the lineup as much as possible.If that’s the case, the Capitals will need more of what they got from the rookie combination against the Flyers.
“It can definitely help,” Leason said. “We’re all obviously here, we’re obviously young and I think we’re all probably going to be in this organization for a long time. So it’s definitely good to start to play together young and to get that chemistry going.”