With Nicklas Backstrom back in lineup for tonight’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Capitals coach Barry Trotz could have played musical chairs and put four brand-new forward lines together.
Instead, he’ll keep the top line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie intact, as well as his checking line of Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson when the Caps face the Carolina Hurricanes tonight (7 pm., CSN).
“Based on last game, there’s nothing wrong with the Ovi-Oshie-Kuzy line,” Trotz said Saturday morning.
But while Oshie, Ovechkin and Kuznetsov combined five points in the Caps’ 4-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks Thursday night, it was the Caps’ third line that Trotz really wanted to keep together, especially after it held Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane silent.
“With Chimmer’s speed, Willie’s heaviness and Beags’ determination, they’re a hard line to play against,” Trotz said.
“It’s nice for him to show that he’s keeping us together,” said Beagle, who turned 30 on Friday. “We feel like we’ve played well and we have more to give. It was a great task against a great No. 1 line. They threw about four different left wingers at us. That’s when you know you’re doing your job.”
Beagle said playing third-line center has always been his “dream job” and on Thursday night Wilson’s physicality indirectly led to the Capitals’ first goal.
On his fourth shift of the game, Wilson drilled an unsuspecting Toews with a hard, clean shoulder check and his way back up the ice Blackhawks forward Viktor Tikhonov threw him to the ice and picked up an interference penalty.
Seventeen seconds later, Oshie scored his first goal of the season on the power play.
“That’s definitely the result of a good, hard hockey play,” Wilson said. “I’m not really focusing on going after Toews. I just found myself in a good position to make a good body check. It happens and one of their guys that doesn’t really have a history of much tough stuff comes over and takes a stupid penalty.
“That’s great for us. That’s hockey. You see it happen a lot, guys trying to defend their teammates. If you’re playing hard and playing the game the right way then there’s a good chance you’ll end up on the power play and with a power play like ours, it’s even better.”
Wilson has led the Caps in penalty minutes the past two seasons (151 as a rookie and 172 last season) while averaging just 7:56 and 10:56 of ice time, respectively. This season he’s averaging 13:50 in ice time and has zero penalty minutes.
“He has to be in control all the time and not looking to hurt anybody, but he’s a big body that has to bump into people,” Trotz said. “He’s not getting five minutes (of ice time) a night and trying to hurt someone. He’s playing 16 minutes a night and killing penalties and he’s an element that other teams can’t match sometimes. If their in his way he’s got full rein to run them over.”
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