Over the course of training camp and the preseason, Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau has experimented with numerous line combinations and moved players between positions and roles. With one more preseason game remaining against the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, Boudreau will have the majority of his regular season lineup in for a final dress rehearsal.
“When you tweak it and look at it you think, ‘They’d be a pretty good line that might be able to score some goals and at the same time they can all skate,” Boudreau said. “They’re big, they’re strong. They should be able to check other team’s top lines. They’re responsible.”
Laich, well known for his ability to serve multiple roles, has spent the bulk of training camp playing left wing, but he has plenty of spot-duty experience at center. With no runaway favorite to anchor the third unit among several prospects, Laich offers the stability of an established player in that spot.
Moving Laich, who signed a six-year deal worth $27 million this season, to center also would give added flexibility when determining the makeup of the first two lines, where there are an abundance of options on the wings with Troy Brouwer, Mike Knuble and Alexander Semin all competing for ice time.
“We’re still mixing and matching, trying to find combinations,” Laich said. “Maybe we’re not going to use it right away, but if our line has a good game tomorrow then maybe in the back of [Boudreau’s] mind he says this line can do this job. . . . Trial and error I guess, to figure out some things.”
The combination of Laich, Chimera and Ward seems to make sense, as it creates a formidable group of sizable forwards — all are at least 6 feet 1 and 210 pounds — who can grind plays out offensively. All three tend to prefer a simpler, up-and-down style of game and none shy away from gritty play.
“You’ve got big bodies down there in the corners, whoever’s down in the corner we all have the ability to hold [defensemen] off and make some good plays come together,” Chimera said. “It seems like a good line to try to grind teams down a bit and wear them out; hopefully we’ll play good [today] and maybe stay together for a long time.”
Said Ward: “I think we complement each other pretty good. . . I think it’s something that we could be looking forward to in the future here.”
While the potential for additional offense exists, equally beneficial for the Capitals could be the possibility of having a tough checking line to face opponents’ top scoring units. Ward joins Washington having already established a two-way game and Laich is one of the most defensively responsible forwards on the roster.
“They’re both easy guys to play with, and I think I can play to their strengths,” Laich said. “I think it would be a good line — a matchup line if we came against a top scoring line in the league that we had to try to check in order for us to win.”
Capitals notes: Goaltender Michal Neuvirth is expected to start against the Blackhawks after missing the past two days of practice with a minor, undisclosed injury. . . .
Jay Beagle, who suffered an injury against Buffalo on Friday, did not practice Saturday, but Boudreau said the forward should suit up Sunday. . . .
Goalie Braden Holtby was reassigned to minor league Hershey on Saturday.