Brooks Laich moves into top six, Marcus Johansson down to third line

January 6

(AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

With the Capitals riding a four-game losing streak and having dropped seven of their last nine Coach Adam Oates shuffled the lines again, this time with a completely different look from what he’s used before.

Brooks Laich, who has played in only three of the last 17 games because of lingering groin problems, is on the top line with Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer. While Marcus Johansson has moved down to center the third line flanked by Jason Chimera and Joel Ward. Alex Ovechkin remains on a unit with Mikhail Grabovski and Eric Fehr and the fourth line remains a catch-all for the remaining forwards.

“Just trying to experiment a little bit, get Backy a bigger body over there and see what it does,” Oates said of moving Laich up. “Just looking for chemistry and looking to see how it works. We’ve got two games [Thursday and Friday], couple days of practice. I’ve kinda wanted to throw Brooksie up there for a while but the injury bug has prevented that.”

It’s an interesting configuration, given Laich’s unpredictable availability due to injury this season  – Oates admitted he’s been focusing more on the forward’s health than overall play lately “I’m just so worried that he’s going to get hurt I’m kind of ignoring the game. Like, he’s minus-9 that’s Okay. How’s he feeling?” – and the fact that Johansson has rarely played center under Oates. It’s also a change that, alone, won’t address the Capitals biggest problems during this slump.

Despite the losses, Washington’s play at even strength has been rather strong and they’ve won the possession battle in each of the last four games. It’s errors in details – frequent unnecessary penalties, quick response goals and other lapses in focus – along with a lackluster penalty kill that has gone 22 for 33 in the past nine games that have combined to undermine them in various ways.

“I think our penalty kill has to be better, it has to get the job done. Trying and being here and [doing] good things isn’t acceptable you have to get the job done,” Laich said. “I think that’s the overall concept with the team too. I think we’ve done a lot of good things but we’re not getting the win.”

It’s even difficult for Oates to reconcile the overall play with the results.

“It’s hard to say,” Oates said. “We’re doing good things every game but we’re also making mistakes in every game. [Assistant coach Calle Johansson] reminded me yesterday actually we came in and we were talking, ‘Oatesy don’t micromanage. It’s still the fundamentals. Don’t look for one little mistake.’ … Every game has so many mistakes in it and we’re trying to nit pick we’ve got to correct fundamental stuff for sure but there hasn’t been one major area that’s been a breakdown that’s shot us in the foot a lot. Other than the penalties probably.”

>> Eric Fehr took a high stick to the lip about 40 minutes into Monday’s practice, left the ice and didn’t return for the final drills and conditioning work but didn’t suffer any serious harm.

>> Here are the full lines the Capitals used Monday
Laich-Backstrom-Brouwer
Fehr-Grabovski-Ovechkin
Chimera-Johansson-Ward
Erat/Volpatti-Beagle-Wilson
Latta skating as an extra forward

Alzner-Carlson
Orlov-Green
Erskine-Oleksy
Urbom skating as an extra

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Neil Greenberg · January 6

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