With Tom Wilson suspended, the Caps have struggled to find someone to play right wing on the top line alongside Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
The team found chemistry with Wilson on the top line last season as his physical presence and board work opened up offensive opportunities for his skilled linemates. With Wilson serving a 20-game suspension, head coach Todd Reirden has tried to find another player who can complement Ovechkin and Kuznetsov, but 13 games into the season the Caps have yet to find a long-term solution.
“It’s not easy when other two guys play with the third guy for so many games and then you try to fill that in,” Kuznetsov said Wednesday. “It’s not easy.”
Reirden has previously used Brett Connolly, Chandler Stephenson, Devante Smith-Pelly and Jakub Vrana on the top line. Currently, the top spot belongs to Dmitrij Jaskin, who will play with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov for the second consecutive game.
Jaskin has a similar build and playing style to that of Wilson so the move makes some sense. He also has an advantage over the other options Reirden has previously used and that’s language.
There are a variety of reasons why it is hard for players to play with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov. It is hard to keep up with their speed and skill, you’re stepping onto a line that already had developed chemistry, you have to take on a lot of defensive responsibilities to make up for their offensive tendencies, you are playing against the opposition’s top shutdown players, etc.
But there’s another issue that you may not have anticipated, a language barrier.
Yes, both Ovechkin and Kuznetsov speak English…with the media. When they are together, however, they revert back to their native language.
“It’s definitely not easy especially to play with me and [Ovechkin],” Kuznetsov said. “We kind of always talk in Russian. But now with Jaskin, he can speak Russian, it’s a little bit easier and he also understand the hockey too.”
Of all the players the Caps have tried at right wing thus far, Jaskin is the only one who can speak Russian. Vrana can understand some, but very little.
Will that mean Jaskin stays on the top line any longer than his teammates? No. The fact that he can speak Russian does not necessarily mean he will develop any chemistry on that line. But being able to communicate and understand his new linemates is a distinct advantage he has and one that the line can use as a whole against its primarily English speaking opponents.
You may not think of Jaskin as a top-six NHL forward, but don’t be surprised if he stays on the top line for longer than you expect.
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