There was a time not too long ago when Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom seemed to be inseparable. But, now, nearly a week into training camp, the two have barely skated together.
Ovechkin’s line has been centered almost exclusively by Marcus Johansson since camp opened Saturday. Backstrom, meantime, has spent nearly all of the first week centering Alexander Semin’s line.
Asked why he put Backstrom on the second line, Boudreau scoffed at the notion that it's a demotion for the 23-year-old Swede.
“I don’t like the words ‘putting him down’ [on the second line], Boudreau said. “Nick is a No. 1 center. We’re trying to make two really good forward lines instead of loading up on one line. We’re trying to find those top six guys.”
“It’s great to have the ability, as a team, to move them back and forth,” Boudreau continued. “It’s the same as they do in Detroit with [Henrik] Zetterberg and [Pavel] Datsyuk. Sometimes they play them together. Sometimes, depending on the opposition, [they play them] on different lines.”
Boudreau added that he likes the chemistry between Backstrom and Semin, who, in recent seasons, hasn’t had the benefit of skating with a steady center.
“They are two very skilled players,” Boudreau said. “Usually, two very skilled players can create chemistry. They’ve played well in the past. We want to see in the preseason if they can recreate that.”
Boudreau didn’t say this, but I’m thinking he simply wanted to try something fresh after last season’s letdown. Ovechkin scored a career-low 32 goals, while Backstrom’s production dropped 36 points to 65.
Backstrom, meantime, said he enjoys playing with Semin, who looks to pass more than Ovechkin. But he also got a little prickly when asked to discuss the reason Boudreau gave him for the change.
“I don’t think about that too much,” Backstrom said. “If coach tells me the place, I’ll skate with the other Alex. I don’t think it matters as long as we get everything together. …I think Bruce knows what he’s doing. We just have to follow him.”
Asked if Boudreau has talked to him about it, he said, “Yeah.” Asked to share those thoughts, he fired back, “No.”
“We talked about it,” he added. “It’s his decision. I mean, he’s the coach.”
So far, Boudreau said he is pleased with the switch. But he also reiterated that his line combinations are always subject to change.
“I don’t think it would take much to, in the fifth game of the preseason, or the sixth game, to say, ‘Meh, it’s not working. Alex and Nicky, get back together,’” Boudreau said. “I’m thinking after one practice they’d pretty well be in sync.”