Thanks to the indestructibility of Alex Ovechkin, Karl Alzner remains the only Capitals' player out of the lineup due to injury. Alzner has not played since Game 2 on April 15 of Washington’s series against the Toronto Maple Leafs due to an upper-body injury. His absence in Game 3 was significant because it snapped an iron man streak of 599 consecutive starts for the veteran defenseman.
In a conference call with reporters on Saturday, Barry Trotz said that Alzner is “day to day and he’s improving.” That’s good news, but it does present an interesting dilemma for the Caps. Who comes out if Alzner goes in?
Nate Schmidt has played in relief of Alzner and played well. He has two assists in three games this postseason and scored a goal that was called back because of a controversial goalie interference call. His speed has also proven to be an asset against the speedy Maple Leafs and, should they get there, would also be useful in a second-round matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, another team that likes to push the pace.
Alzner, however, is one of the team’s best defensive players. Washington’s play in the defensive zone has been suspect all series long and the Caps have allowed nine goals in the three games Alzner has been out.
To solve this dilemma, Trotz may make a fairly drastic change to the lineup when Alzner is finally ready to return.
When asked if he would consider using seven defensemen, Trotz did not hesitate with his answer, “Yes, I would.”
A typical lineup consists of 12 forwards (four lines of three) and six defensemen (three pairs of two). Dressing seven defensemen would mean dropping a forward and would represent a pretty dramatic shift considering Washington has not tried this sort of lineup at any point this season.
The benefit of dressing seven defensemen is flexibility. Trotz could use three pairs and use the extra as a situational player for power plays or penalty kills. He could also switch up his pairs depending on zone starts.
Someone would still have to come out of the lineup, but it would have to be a forward and, judging by ice time from the last two games, it’s not hard to figure out who that would be.
Brett Connolly played only 4:26 in Game 3 and 6:12 in Game 4. He is the only player who did not get any playing time on special teams on Friday. When asked about Connolly’s playing time, Trotz said Thursday, “I felt that the way they were going in terms of the minutes, I just felt, I was going with the 10 or 11 guys we were going with.”
The downside of going with seven defensemen is that it creates uneven pairs and lines, but with Trotz essentially only utilizing 11 forwards anyway it is perhaps no surprise that Trotz would consider the move.
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