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Looking for a spark, Trotz shuffles lines

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Looking for a spark, Trotz shuffles lines

Earning five out of a possible eight points in a four-game road swing—including three points in the dreaded California gauntlet of Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose—would be a successful trip for most teams.

The Capitals, however, are not most teams.

In those four games, the Caps never held the lead in any of them. Both of the team's wins came in overtime. Now after giving up the first goal in all four games and losing their last two, head coach Barry Trotz decided to mix things up at practice Monday.

Here are the lines from practice:

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Jay Beagle

Andre Burakovsky - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie

Jason Chimera - Marcus Johansson - Justin Williams

Daniel Winnik - Mike Richards - Tom Wilson

Yes, should these lines hold for Tuesday's game it will mean the return of Beagle to the top line.

RELATED: Capitals, Ovechkin slumping at same time

"Maybe Oshie don't want to play with us," Ovechkin said after practice. The real reason, however, is that Trotz is looking for a spark.

"Every time I put [Beagle] up there I think it forces the line to go north," Trotz said. "We've had good production when we've put him up there. He goes and gets pucks. I think he drives the guys around him. He's an engine, he pushes people forward.

"I thought he was our best player in San Jose so he gets the first call. Simple as that."

For his part, Beagle knows what his job is when he's skating alongside Ovechkin and Backstrom.

"Get them the puck," Beagle said. "I just try and keep it simple."

Beagle is not a typical top line player, but with the team in a bit of a funk, every line is getting a bit of a makeover.

Ovechkin has been held without a goal for five games. The third line of Chimera-Johansson-Wilson, meanwhile, which had looked dominant when Johansson was moved there now has struggled with all three players combining for just five points in the team's last 10 games. The addition of the always dangerous Williams on the right side will instantly make that line more potent.

But players and lines go through slumps. The real concern continues to be the team's poor starts as the Caps have now allowed the first goal in 13 of their last 15 games.

When asked if he had any concerns about his team, Trotz said, "Yeah I have concerns, first period concerns. The same ones you have."

"Obviously start is something that we've talked about a lot," Beagle said. "We have to find a way to get a better start, have to find a way to get a lead and play with a lead. It obviously shows great resiliency coming back and shows the fire power we have, but we can't always make our push in the third. We've got to come out and play for a full 60."

It's something the team is well aware of and, quite clearly, tired of thinking about.

"To be honest, I'm kind of sick of talking about it," Justin Williams said. "I think it's been brought up so many times that we can deal with it ourselves. The answers are within here. We don't need to beat the horse all the time."

Until the problem is solved, however, it's something the Caps are going to have to keep hearing.

"I'm bringing it up everyday until it's fixed," Trotz said. "There's only one way to get us to stop talking about it, right? Fix it."

MORE CAPITALS: CSNMA to honor Craig Laughlin's 25th season as Caps broadcaster

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Can Tom Wilson change the way he plays?

Can Tom Wilson change the way he plays?

On Thursday in New York, Tom Wilson will present his case to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and argue why he does not deserve the 20-game suspension handed down to him by the Department of Player Safety. Regardless of whether or not Bettman decides to reduce the suspension, there’s a larger question that now hangs over Wilson and one that will determine the direction his career goes from here.

Can Wilson change his game?

There is no question whether the hit he delivered to St. Louis Blue forward Oskar Sundqvist which earned him the suspension was illegal. The DoPS’s explanation video lays out why it was a bad hit. This is also Wilson’s fourth suspension in just 105 games meaning the next suspension will be even more severe.

When you have to think about suspensions of more than 20 games, those are serious. They have serious consequences for both the team and the player.

Like it or not, Wilson will have to change the way he plays. But can he?

Can a player who has played a certain way his entire career, a player who made it to the NHL playing the way he does, simply change his game?

“Every player can add different elements to their game,” Reirden said Tuesday when asked about Wilson. “I think it's a line that needs to be towed with him in regard to he has a physical element that is a difference maker for him and using him at the proper times and in the proper ways.”

The team is not going to ask him to not be physical and, despite what Caps fans may think, neither will the league. The point is he needs to be smarter about when he is physical and make sure to keep his hits legal. That means playing smarter.

The hit to Sundqvist was unnecessary. Wilson could have played the stick instead of going for the hit. The fact that it also came in the preseason is significant as well. At that point, he should not even be thinking about delivering a big hit to anyone because it is a meaningless game.

Against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs last season, Wilson is headed to the bench for a line change, but turns to deliver a hit to Zach Aston-Reese. That hit ended up breaking Aston-Reese’s jaw and resulted in a three-game suspension for Wilson. He could have simply gone to the bench and the entire situation could have been avoided.

Wilson absolutely can be a successful player if he plays smarter. He is not on the top line because of his hitting, he is there because he is a good skater with offensive skill who can win board battles with his physical play. The hits are just one aspect of his game, but he is a much more dynamic player than his detractors give him credit for.

But there’s no denying part of what makes him successful is being a good hitter. Reirden knows that and doesn’t want that aspect to be taken out of Wilson’s game completely.

“To expect him to go out there and not finish anymore checks is not going to be very effective either,” Reirden said. “We're working towards a good product for him so he can continue to be back in our team. He's such an important piece to what we do here. We want to have him back as quick as we can and then we want to keep him in the lineup so we'll be discussing that further after things are done.”


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Caps’ dominant power play comes through yet again in win over Rangers

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Caps’ dominant power play comes through yet again in win over Rangers

It seems so simple. The Capitals have one of the best goal-scorers of all-time in Alex Ovechkin and on the power play, he’s almost always in the same spot. He sets up in the “office,” the faceoff circle on the left side of the ice, and waits for one-timers. Everyone knows the Caps are trying to get him the puck, everyone knows the shot is coming.

But nobody can stop it.

“It’s still pretty unique,” Matt Niskanen said after the 4-3 overtime win. “Basic logic tells you it’d be easy to stop, but it’s not.”

Even Ovechkin has no explanation. “It’s all about luck,” he said.

New York Rangers head coach David Quinn had another word for it.

“Sickening.”

Quinn’s Rangers were the latest victims of a power play that has been among the league’s best units for several years. Since 2005, no team in the NHL has a better power play percentage than the Capitals’ 20.8-percent. They once again look lethal this season with the unit currently clicking at an incredible 39.1-percent.

Ovechkin tallied two power play goals Wednesday, both from the office, to help power the Caps to a 4-3 win over New York. Both of Ovechkin’s goals looked pretty similar with John Carlson on the point feeding Ovechkin in the office for the one-timer.

Ovechkin obviously is what powers the team’s power play. With him on the ice, other teams need to account for him at all times.

But the real key to the Caps’ success with the extra man is not Ovechkin, but the other weapons around him.

“In order to completely take [Ovechkin] away other guys are just too open and they’re good enough to score,” Niskanen said. “Are you gonna leave [T.J. Oshie] open in the slot from the hash marks to cover [Ovechkin]? Our power play is set up well with what hands guys are and their skill sets so we have a lot of different options. Guys are good at reading what’s open. It’s pretty lethal.”

“Nobody knows who's going to take a shot when we play like that,” Ovechkin said. “And it's fun to play like that, to be honest with you. When [Nicklas Backstrom] and when [Evgeny Kuznetsov] feeling the puck well, they can find you in the right time and the right place -- same as [Carlson]."

With so many weapons on the power play, teams are forced to choose between playing Ovechkin tight and leaving other players like Kuznetsov and Oshie wide open, or trying to play a traditional penalty kill and risk giving Ovechkin too much room for the one-timer.

The Rangers chose the latter on Wednesday and they suffered the consequences.

“I don't think many teams have played him like they did tonight,” Carlson said. “They gave him a lot more space.”

And Carlson certainly took advantage as well.

Washington’s power play seems to have found a new gear now with the emergence of Carlson. He took his game to a new level last season and he seems to have picked up right where he left off. On Wednesday, as part of a three-point night for him, Carlson provided two brilliant setups for Ovechkin on the power play.

“He dominates the game, I think,” Niskanen said of Carlson. “Moves the puck well, skates well for a big man, can defend. He’s got that offensive feel for the game and offensive touch. Big shot. He’s a good player.”

For many years, it looked like the only thing missing from the Caps’ power play was Mike Green. Carlson has always been good, but no one was able to setup Ovechkin quite as well as Green was in the height of the “young guns” era of the Caps. Now that Carlson seems to be coming into his own as a superstar blueliner who can both score and feed Ovechkin with the best of them, that makes an already dominant Caps’ power play even more lethal.

That was certainly on display Wednesday as the Caps fired eight shots on goal with the extra man. Ovechkin’s two goals tie him for ninth on the NHL’s all-time power play goals list with Dino Ciccarelli at 232.

Even with Ovechkin now 33 years old and after several years of dominance with the extra man, the Caps’ power play may be better than ever.

“They don’t get rattled,” Quinn said. “There’s a confidence to them and a swagger to them, which they should have.  They’ve been playing together a long time and they’re the defending Stanley Cup champions, so they should play with a swagger.”

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