After two weeks playing them on separate lines, Coach Adam Oates has reunited Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the same unit heading into Friday’s game at the New Jersey Devils.
“I thought the sequence of their line had maybe worn out and [decided to] put them back together,” Oates said of combining the two franchise players once more, this time with Mikhail Grabovski as their left wing. “It was something I actually thought about a long time ago before Grabo got hurt was to see what he looked like on wing with Backy and Ovi and change up the chemistry that’s all.”
Beginning in the middle of the March 16 contest against the Maple Leafs, Ovechkin spent the bulk of his time skating with grinding defensive center Jay Beagle and Marcus Johansson. Backstrom skated with Troy Brouwer and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
Those combinations, Oates said previously, were an effort to alter opposing teams’ matchups against Washington’s top offensive players while promoting a more straightforward approach to their play. It was also his attempt to balance the units while Grabovski, the usual second line center, was sidelined by a sprained ankle.
It was an odd-couple pairing to say the least, but the first four games Ovechkin played with Beagle he was a plus player after earning minuses in nine straight. The flip side of that equation, however, was that the paring didn’t help spark Ovechkin’s offensive production at even strength.
While that experiment appears to be over for now, Oates was complimentary of Beagle and said it was a combination that served the Capitals as a group even if it didn’t result in even strength goals.
“I read the comments [about playing Ovechkin and Beagle] but we started it and we got points in [six] out of eight games that we did it,” Oates said. “The results I was looking for is the balance in the lines that you’re always looking for in terms of who you play, the pace of our game. Guys have strengths and weaknesses no question but Grabo was banged up. We were weak in the middle and we’ve had guys playing center that aren’t centers. You’re doing a little bit of a patchwork jut to keep the pace of the game going.
“I thought that line hasn’t hurt us. They didn’t get scored on the whole [California] trip, obviously our five on five numbers have got to improve,” Oates said. “I’m always focused on Ovi in terms of getting him his touches and goals, no question. But the team still comes first and he knows that. He knows how I feel and we talk about that all the time.”