After consecutive disappointing losses by the Capitals this week, Coach Adam Oates is changing up with forward lines for Saturday night’s game in Toronto.
Eric Fehr, who last played on Nov. 2 against Florida, will be back in the lineup after sitting out the past nine games as a healthy scratch. He’ll line up as left wing on the second line, which will also include Mikhail Grabovski at center and Troy Brouwer at right wing.
In conjunction with that move, Brooks Laich shifts to center of the third line between Jason Chimera and Joel Ward. All the alterations leave Martin Erat, who played the first seven games of the season on the fourth line before being moved up to the top six, as the odd man out and a healthy scratch in Toronto.
“Chemistry, one thing. It was time for Fehrsie to get a game,” Oates told reporters after Washington’s optional morning skate at Air Canada Centre. “Marty’s been fighting it a little bit, in my mind. Sometimes when you sit up top you get a fresh perspective. It’s not permanent, just trying to shake it up a little bit.”
It’s not surprising that Oates finally decided to shake up the second line, which has been unable to create any sort of offense at even strength with Laich, Brouwer and any of the rotating cast that’s rounded out the unit this season. Erat has yet to score a goal and hasn’t really been able to establish productive chemistry regardless of which line he’s been placed on.
Friday night Oates had Erat lined up as center of the second line, but said that single-game experiment wasn’t part of deciding to scratch the veteran winger.
“No, not so much last night. It’s probably been building a little bit,” Oates said. “I put him in a foreign position last night so I can’t blame him. He actually did okay. It’s more of a building thing.”
In 14 games this season, Fehr played center and recorded one goal and six points. Given that it’s been three weeks since Fehr last played, Oates said he preferred to put the winger at his natural position rather than at center.
Perhaps the most interesting side effect of all these changes is the dissolution of Washington’s third line of Chimera, Grabovski and Ward. That trio had been the Capitals’ most consistent and productive at even strength for much of the first two months, but in recent games they have spent a little more time in their own zone than usual and they were on for a goal against both by the Penguins and Canadiens this week.
Here are the projected lineups for both teams
James VanRiemsdyk-Nazem Kadri-Phil Kessel
Joffrey Lupul-Trevor Smith-David Clarkson
Mason Raymond-Peter Holland-Nikolai Kulemin
Jay McClement-Jerred Smithson-Colton Orr
Dion Phaneuf-Carl Gunnarson
Jake Gardiner-Morgan Rielly/Paul Ranger
James Reimer is expected to start.