Over the first 10 days of training camp, Alex Ovechkin has skated with no fewer than five different linemates in various configurations. The combinations on the other forward lines are equally as plentiful.
While Coach Bruce Boudreau told media members not to analyze all of the variations, it’s safe to say that everyone from reporters to fans and players is curious to see how the lineup will shake out for the regular season opener on Oct. 8.
What makes the Capitals different at this time of year from many teams, though, is that where a player skates for the first game of the 2011-12 season may have little bearing on where they play for the rest of the year, or even the next game.
It’s no secret Boudreau doesn’t hesitate to change up his line combinations and that he prefers forwards be comfortable playing with everyone on the roster, so if a situation warrants a certain mix, an alteration can be made without a steep learning curve.
This year the Capitals seem to have even more options than in the past, with a cupboard stocked full of forwards who can play multiple positions and serve multiple roles, from scorer to shut-down checker.
While much of the rotation last season came from trying to spark the offense, this preseason Boudreau suggested that the tweaks could come as a countermeasure to an opponent. (Like when he created a shut-down line to face Anaheim’s top trio of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan last year.) Asked about that possibility Monday, though, Boudreau said he won’t make changes just for the sake of doing it.
“I hinted at it, but I think everything is as it goes, see how the team is playing,” Boudreau said. “If we’re playing good, I’m not going to break up combinations just because who we’re playing. I would rather them worry about us and believe that we’ve got guys that can play in all roles against anybody.
“I’ve always believed that all four lines should be able to check and all four lines should be able to create some offense,” Boudreau said.
Now, the argument against flexibility among lines and being able to mix and match is one of chemistry. If players don’t spend much time working with each other, how can they build intangibles between them and become a more effective unit? That’s something that General Manager George McPhee previously stated he wasn’t worried about.
“This is not the 1970s, where our lines stayed together for five or six years. Things have changed,” McPhee said earlier this month. “I don’t think it affects chemistry a whole lot. There’s usually two players on a line who spend a lot of time together and a third guy who moves around a bit more. There are times when you get into big games or injuries and you move guys around, and it’s nice to have played with someone before. In the cap era it really helps to have players that can go up and down a lineup.”