Last Thursday night, the Caps scored two goals on their first two shots and four goals on their first four shots in a 7-1 romp over the Florida Panthers at Verizon Center. But in the three games since, the Caps have scored a combined total of just three goals. In their last six and a half periods of play, the Capitals have but one goal, and that the first career NHL goal from defenseman Steve Oleksy.
Caps coach Adam Oates tends to have more patience than most coaches when it comes to keeping lines together and trying to nurture and develop chemistry. But Washington’s forwards have been completely quiet since Nicklas Backstrom’s third-period goal on Long Island last Saturday, so Oates has revamped all four of his forward units heading into tonight’s contest against the Hurricanes in Carolina.
“Whenever your offense runs dry – and it does over the course of a season – you’ve got to change it up a little bit,” says Caps right wing Troy Brouwer, “whether it’s switching around players or ice time or whatever it may be, he’s got to try and find a spark and try to get guys being creative and scoring goals again.”
Wingers Matt Hendricks and Alex Ovechkin have played together good bit of late, mostly with Mike Ribeiro manning the middle. Tonight, Hendricks and Ovechkin will flank Backstrom. The three skated together in the third period of Tuesday’s 4-0 loss to the Canes in Washington.
“They do have a lot of similarities, but they do have some differences,” says Hendricks of Backstrom and Ribeiro. “I think Ribs really likes to slow the play down. He likes to control the puck high in the offensive zone. I think Nicky is more of a corners guy; where he is down low kind of behind the goal line where he is able to find those feeds, those players in the high slot area.
“They are both very fantastic at what they do. They’ve got great playmaking abilities and they’re great players. I think we’re going to see Alex getting a lot of shots and a lot of opportunities tonight.”
Ribeiro will be reunited with left wing Jason Chimera and right wing Joel Ward. That trio had a brief but effective run together early in the season.
“I think Ribs is good at spotting me the puck,” says Chimera. “I never seem to slow down with him. I know it’s one of those things, if I’m going he’ll flip the puck over the [defense] or flip the puck in the corner, put the puck in good spots for me. Wardo is a great player down low; he works hard.
“We need a centerman that can carry the puck and create some plays, and he is the perfect guy. When we got it in there, we just gave it to him and let him do the talking. One play in Toronto, me and Wardo went and got it and passed it to [Ribeiro], went to the net and Wardo was open back door. We didn’t really do much, just got the puck and he did all the rest. Ribs sis a special player. He is fun to play with.”
Marcus Johansson centers for Eric Fehr and Troy Brouwer and Jay Beagle will man the middle of a unit with portsider Aaron Volpatti and right wing Joey Crabb.
“He’s a lot like Nicky in a sense,” says Brouwer of Johansson, “where he can make plays. He likes having the puck on his stick rather than being the shooter. He’s got some good skill and sees the ice well. It’s pretty easy to play with him. In the last few games, he has had a lot of energy coming back off his injury. So hopefully he continues that tonight.”
Prior to its’ current three-game skid in which it has scored a combined total of three goals, Washington went 8-3 in its previous 11 while averaging 3.73 goals per game. The Caps hope tonight’s line tweaks can jump-start the offense.
“I still think chemistry-wise,” begins Oates, “guys match up with guys in a certain way and you’ve got to be careful about when you push a panic button because you don’t want to show [the players] that you’re panicking. I don’t want them to feel that from me. And number two, when you watch the tape, Marcus had three [scoring chances] from a foot [away] in the first five minutes [on Tuesday against Carolina]. It’s a different game if we score two of those. You’ve got to keep that in perspective, as hard as it is.”
Minor Dealings – The Caps made a pair of minor swaps on Thursday. First, they shipped a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for 26-year-old defenseman Chay Genoway. Later in the day, the Caps dealt defenseman Kevin Marshall to Toronto in exchange for 23-year-old left wing Nicolas Deschamps, a former 2nd-round pick (2008) of the Anaheim Ducks.