Throughout the first 19 games of the season, there’s been a revolving door at left wing on the Capitals‘ top line as Coach Adam Oates searches for the correct fit opposite Alex Ovechkin.
Oates has tried several candidates with inconsistent results and so on Friday he opted to go with a combination he’s used mostly mid-game when seeking a spark from the No. 1 unit, adding grinder Matt Hendricks to the equation.
“You know what, just a change. Give someone else a shot there,” Oates said. “Kind of by committee right now until I feel that there’s a real guy who can be entrenched there.”
Disregarding the four games in which Ovechkin skated at left wing, the Capitals have tried Marcus Johansson (one goal, no assists, minus-7), Wojtek Wolski (two goals, two assists, minus-5), Jason Chimera (no goals, seven assists, minus-4) and occasionally Hendricks (three goals, one assist, plus-1).
It’s a spot that Brooks Laich may fill whenever he has recovered from a lingering groin injury and is able to make his season debut, but for now the Capitals are trying to find a suitable option from the players they have.
“That’s where you miss Brooks [Laich], no question,” Oates said. “It’s an opportunity for other guys and we’ve just got to keep going with it.”
No matter where he plays, the basic tenets of Hendricks’s game don’t change much. He aims to work hard along the boards, make a physical impact against opponents and drive to the net. On the top line, though, he admits he must alter the way he approaches play in the offensive zone.
“I’m going to try to take deep breaths is kind of the best way to put it. My job is going to change a little bit in the regards that I’m not out there just to bring energy,” Hendricks said. “I’m out there to actually serve a purpose when it comes to scoring goals and getting opportunities to score goals. I’m going to put myself in areas where I’ve found success before to score but I’m going to work on getting them the puck, opening up space, opening up lanes for them to do their thing.”
Hendricks’s promotion during Friday’s practice caused a ripple effect among the other left wings. Wolski was knocked down to the fourth line and there’s a chance he could sit out Saturday’s game as a healthy scratch.
Wolski’s last goal came on Feb. 1 against Philadelphia; he has gone 11 contests without scoring and 10 games without a point.
“I think maybe being a little snake bit is affecting some of his decisions and play,” Oates said. “He’s got to take a step back and just regroup and he’s one of the guys with a little bit of execution I need more of.”