Altering line combinations or defensive pairings is typically an effort by the coaching staff to find chemistry between different players. Through five games, it’s unclear whether that can be established with the Capitals’ first line as currently constructed.
Since Alex Ovechkin returned to the lineup on Nov. 5 after missing two games with a shoulder injury, he has skated with Nicklas Backstrom, his usual center, and Martin Erat on left wing. The trio has yet to combine for an even-strength goal.
There’s always an adjustment period for a new player working alongside Ovechkin and Backstrom, who have had years to develop a chemistry and understanding of how the other approaches various situations on the ice. Erat never had the luxury of playing with offensive stars of their caliber during his time in Nashville and is trying to grow familiar with the pair’s habits and preferences.
“It’s always going to take a couple games, it doesn’t matter who you play with but it’s easier to play with them. They know what to do on the ice and for me it’s just about trying to read them, trying to get used to their patterns, what they do on the ice,” said Erat, who has yet to record a goal this season but has had several nice assists including a set up to John Carlson against Columbus.
“For example, Ovi likes to shoot the puck and so you have to go to the net when he’s on the ice,” Erat said. “Backy when he gets the puck you need be ready, to know when he wants to pass it.”
In the early stages of this configuration there appears to be a slight disconnect. Passes are off the mark, plays to sustain possession don’t always come with the desired result and time in the offensive zone isn’t leading to much offense.
Backstrom said he likes the work ethic that the three of them have as a line, but acknowledged that there’s still work to be done in terms of chemistry and effectiveness.
“We don’t create too many chances when we get possession, that’s something we as a line have to be better,” Backstrom said. “It’s more positioning and where to spot the puck to each other. Either a direct pass to the tape or maybe cycle it one extra time before shooting.”
The Capitals’ top centerman is optimistic that with more time they will be able to generate the offensive opportunities expected of a top line at even strength.
“We’ve been talking about it too, we haven’t been playing together too much so hopefully it gets better and we know where we are a little bit more, especially in the offensive zone,” Backstrom said. “That’s where we’ve got to be on top of our game.”