The Washington Capitals will ice four forward lines and only five defensemen tonight when they battle Norris Division rival Pittsburgh at the Civic Arena (WTOP-1500 at 7:30 p.m.).
Washington Coach Danny Belisle has junked his format of three defensive pairs, leaving both Bryan Watson and Jack Lynch as odd men out, at least temporarily.
"We have an abundance of defensemen, but I prefer to go with five," Belisle said. "It makes us more organized as a team and it makes it easier to run a bench. Six defensemen just weren't getting enough ice time."
"I understand what's going on," said Watson, who had played weekend games against Boston and the New York Rangers following a two-week layoff. "I'm 36 and they want to look at the younger guys. It's very, very frustrating, but I'll just have to be patient."
Lynch played sparlingly in five games after returning from knee surgery and Belisle, who sat him down after one shift Wednesday night, thinks he needs more conditioning before assuming a full-time spot.
In going to four lines, Belisle crested two new units. Rolf Edberg will center Bob Girard and Michel Bergeron, while Dennis Maruk will center Greg Carroll and Bill Riley.
"Carroll had a good game in New York and this setup will keep us from having three small guys on one line," Belisle said. Edberg had been playing left wing alongside Maruk and Bergeron.
Edberg, a natural center, has been the most solid Washington player in recent weeks, despite playing out of position and, with a plus four rating, shares the team lead with Carroll. Edberg's 14 points place him two behind Capital pacesetter Tom Rowe. The Swede's play has been a pleasant surprise for Belisle, who benched him for three games earlier in the season.
"When I first came to the team, he (Edberg) played adequate, but then he seemed to tail off and I was a little disappointed," Belisle said. "I figured maybe the adjustment to the NHL was too much. After all, he's not a big guy.
"So I tried a few other guys and when I did bring him back, he was the No. 1 star his first game and he's played well ever since. We really have six centermen and sombody had to play out of position, so I played him out of position quite a bit.
"There's no question he's more valuable at center, though. He's a free-wheeling guy, he handles the puck well and he passes well. It restricted his play somewhat on the wing. Now, with four lines, he can return to his natural position."
Paul Mulvey will remain on left wing with Ryan Walter and Mark Lofthouse, leaving veteran Gerry Meehan in the holding pattern with Watson and Lynch.
"It's a numbers situation with Gerry," Belisle said. "I want to giveMulvey a chance to develop his skills and see where the ceiling is with him."
The Capitals and Penghins meet again at Capital Centre Friday night and the outcome of the two-game series could be important to Pittsburgh Coach Johnny Wilson's plans for holiday employment.
Pittsburgh is last in the Norris Division, one point behind Washington, and has lost four in row. Two of those defeats came on home ice last week, before the Penguins' two largest crowds of the season, and the vultures are beginning to circle.