Just like Maverick in Top Gun, Coach Dale Hunter feels the need, the need for speed, and his adjustments to the Capitals’ lineup heading into tonight’s game against the Bruins reflect it.
Hunter will go back to 12 forwards and six defensemen after using 11 and seven, respectively, for the past two contests. Rounding out the forward corps will be recently recalled Cody Eakin, who recorded a goal in each of his past two games in the AHL after scoring just once in 16 prior outings with the Bears.
“He’s a good skater, we add more speed to our lineup,” Hunter said of Eakin. “He’s been playing well down there; he’s been scoring some goals so get him up in the lineup.”
With Eakin in the mix that means Joel Ward will be scratched for a fourth straight game since taking a shot off the foot in Philadelphia on March 22. It may not be Ward’s injury that continues to hold him out of the lineup, though. Asked if the winger was healthy, Hunter replied, “We’re just skating him, getting him in shape.”
Jeff Halpern will be a healthy scratch for the third consecutive game as well. Hunter said that Jay Beagle’s recent success on faceoffs makes it easier to scratch Halpern, who leads the Capitals with a 58.3 percent success rate on draws, against Boston – which at 54.4 percent stands as the best faceoff team in the league. (More on that a little later.)
Hunter also tinkered with the top line in search of a quicker step, adding Marcus Johansson to the right wing alongside Alex Ovechkin and Brooks Laich.
“I like his speed,” Hunter said of Johansson. “He’s making plays and speed again, guys. We need speed in the lineup and we need him to skate.”
Facing a Bruins lineup with plenty of depth and physicality, Hunter stressed that he believes quickness will need to be a significant asset if the Capitals are to succeed.
“Speed, get on top of them. Speed, it hurts teams,” Hunter said. “Whether you get on the forecheck faster, backcheck faster, you’re neutral zone faster everything. In-zone speed is the way the game’s made since they took out holding.”
A few other items of note from the morning skate:
— Nicklas Backstrom, who said Wednesday he would not return to the lineup against the Bruins, took part in the full skate as well as extra work with the scratches. This marked the 16th time in the past 17 days the Swedish center has been on the ice.
— Jeff Schultz took part in extra work with Ward, Halpern, Backstrom and Braden Holtby, so it looks like he will be the odd man out among the defensemen.
— Michal Neuvirth was struck in the throat by a shot from Marcus Johansson roughly 15 minutes into the morning skate. After a few minutes bent over in pain and being attended to by the Capitals’ athletic trainers, Neuvirth was able to shake off the shot and complete practice. Afterwards, Neuvirth said he was sore but no worse for wear.