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Coach Barry Trotz shuffles lines as Caps look to end slide in Edmonton

Coach Barry Trotz shuffles lines as Caps look to end slide in Edmonton

Coach Barry Trotz scrambled his forward lines ahead of Saturday’s game in Edmonton, where the Caps will be looking to stem a two-game slide against Connor McDavid and the Oilers (10 p.m. NBC Sports Washington).

Here’s how Trotz had his forwards lined up:

Ovechkin – Kuznetsov – Smith-Pelly

Vrana – Backstrom – Oshie

Stephenson – Eller – Wilson

Chiasson – Beagle – Peluso

Here’s what you need to know about that alignment:

  • Nicklas Backstrom appears set to return after missing Thursday’s game with an illness. Which, of course, is huge for a banged-up Caps' team that has been limited to two or fewer goals in four of the last five games.
  • Brett Connolly looks to be out after taking that big hit from Canucks Dman Erik Gudbranson. Connolly was placed in the concussion protocol after leaving Thursday's game in the second period. He could be out Sunday in Calgary, too.
  • A couple of days after Trotz hinted that he envisioned a promotion in Devante Smith-Pelly’s future, and that he suspected Smith-Pelly could complement “higher-end” players, we’re going to see top-six DSP for the first time. Chiasson skated with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov in Vancouver; now Chiasson is back on the fourth line.
  • Chandler Stephenson, who scored his first NHL goal in Vancouver, slides over to the wing and replaces Connolly on Lars Eller's line. Jakub Vrana, meantime, returns to the top-six.
  • Anthony Peluso, who was recalled from minor league Hershey, will skate on the fourth line. As I wrote Friday, part of the reason the Caps opted to recall Peluso as opposed to a prospect is this: he's played 142 NHL games and, at 6-3 and 225 pounds, can serve as a bit of deterrent vs. an Oilers’ team that’s got some ruggedness in Zack Kassian, Milan Lucic, etc. If things get rough, it also means Peluso—and not Tom Wilson—can answer the bell.   
  • Braden Holtby is expected to start, which could mean Philipp Grabauer will get the backend of back-to-back. Again.

 

RELATED: WITH THE INJURIES CONTINUING TO PILE UP, THE CAPS MAKE ANOTHER CALL-UP FROM HERSHEY

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Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

With Tom Wilson still serving a 20-game suspension, Washington Capitals head coach Todd Reirden has the difficult task of finding a wing to complement his top line of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. For the first four games of the season, that player was Brett Connolly.

On Saturday, however, he changed things up and went with Chandler Stephenson instead.

Just 18 seconds into the game, Stephenson made his head coach look very smart as he finished off a 2-on-1 with Kuznetsov to score his first goal of the season.

“Obviously, the start was great,” Reirden said after the game.

Stephenson is an incredibly fast skater and the extra speed seemed to add another dimension to that line that opponents had to contend with, and it led to both of the Caps’ goals on the night.

In addition to Stephenson’s goal, Ovechkin drew a tripping penalty in the second period, and Washington scored on the resulting power play.

“Those guys are a lot of fun to play with,” Stephenson said. “They just know where to be and can find each other. I've just got to get the puck to them and just go to the net with your stick on the ice, and they'll find you.”

The top line’s success was a matter of finding instant chemistry as Stephenson had very little time to adjust. The Caps were off on Friday following back-to-back games, and Reirden did not make the switch of putting Stephenson on the top until Saturday’s morning skate.

Putting a new top line together with little time to practice does not seem like an ideal scenario, but according to Kuznetsov, the level of familiarity between all the players made the adjustment quick and easy.

“It doesn't matter with who you play,” he said. “In this locker room, we can communicate with anybody. We don't have a first line, we don't have a fourth line. We try and roll all lines.”

Reirden seemed pleased with the new trio after the game saying, “They did a number of good things during the game as well, so they I thought accomplished a lot. I thought [Stephenson] brought the speed on the forecheck and was able to at least go after their defense a little bit and force some turnovers that Kuznetsov and [Ovechkin] were able to at least get some opportunities from. So I think that's important to have him in that situation.”

Reirden was happy enough with the top line’s performance to keep them together. The team is off Monday, but Stephenson remained on the top line during Sunday’s practice.

But so long as Wilson remains out, finding the right match for the top line will remain a work in progress.

Said Reirden, “We’ll continue to try to put together our four lines that give us the best chance.”

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NHL Power Rankings: Not every night is a big-time game for the Capitals

NHL Power Rankings: Not every night is a big-time game for the Capitals

There was a lot of excitement to start the season for the Caps. First, there was the home-opener and the banner raising against the Boston Bruins. Then there was a trip to Pittsburgh to take on the rival Penguins. After that, it was a Stanley Cup Final rematch against the Vegas Golden Knights.

And all of that was followed up with a trip to Newark.

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

With all due respect to New Jersey, given the slate the Caps faced to start the season, it was no real surprise to see the team struggle to get up for Thursday’s game against the Devils, a game in which the Caps were blown out 6-0. Of all the games Washington faced to start the season, the trip to New Jersey was definitely the least exciting.

But not every game is going to be a big rivalry matchup or a playoff rematch. With every team gunning for the Caps, they better make sure they can get themselves ready for the grind of an 82-game season that won’t always feature a big-time matchup.

A trip to Newark may not be flashy or exciting, but it still counts as two points.

The Caps dropped the game in New Jersey and lost a tight contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Where do they stand now after two straight losses?

FIND OUT HERE IN THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS

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