Washington Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon doesn't like to label the forward combinations. His "top line" is simply the one that's playing best.
These days, that title indisputably belongs to Ben Clymer, Brian Sutherby and Matt Bradley, checking line forwards who have, of late, found success at the other end of the ice, too.
Since they debuted together Nov. 6 at home against Toronto, the trio has combined to produce 10 goals and nine assists. In the season's first 13 games, Clymer, Sutherby and Bradley had a total of two goals and one assist.
Coincidence? Not a chance, Sutherby said yesterday before the Capitals departed for New York, where they face Jaromir Jagr and the Rangers tonight at Madison Square Garden.
"It all starts in our end, and when you're playing with guys who can get moving with speed, it's awesome," said Sutherby, who skates between Clymer, on the left, and Bradley. "When we get the puck in deep, that's when we go to work. We don't do anything fancy; we're just trying to outwork guys, bang and crash and get the puck to the net."
With these guys, there aren't any flashy passes, one-on-one moves or dazzling goals. Instead, they adhere to a formula that's as basic as their approach to the game: skate hard, hit even harder and when the opportunity presents itself, put the puck in the net. The first two ingredients, Bradley pointed out, often lead to the third.
"We're all kind of physical, so we just wear the other team down," Bradley said. "We all skate pretty well, which helps because of the new rules. We just get the puck in deep and cause havoc. We've been growing together every game. Now, it's like we know where each other is going to be, even when I can't see them. It's been fun playing with them."
It's been rewarding, too. After getting off to slow starts, Sutherby has amassed five goals and three assists in the nine games since the line was assembled, and Clymer has recorded all four of his points (three goals, one assist) during that span. Bradley has doubled his goal total to four and recorded all five of his assists.
"They play our system as well as any of our lines do," Hanlon said. "Their execution of it is good, and they are getting results. You have three hard-working guys.
"All three kind of play the same way: bang and crash and in your face. Their goals are all scored [in close]. They are hard-working goals. I like it, because it's what we're about as a team."
The chemistry between the three has been so strong, Hanlon has left them alone, a rarity on a team on which the forward lines are sometimes a revolving door. The consistency has been a welcome change -- particularly for Clymer, who early this season not only switched lines often but also bounced between forward and defense.
"Just being comfortable, playing with the same guys everyday, that's huge," Clymer said. "It's nice to come every day and know who you are going to play with. It makes a difference because when you go into the corner, you can think, 'I've been here before, so Suts is going to be here and Brads is going to be here.' It's invaluable, especially on a team where no one knows each other well."
Sutherby, Clymer and Bradley have become fast friends off the ice, too.
"We get along really well," Clymer said. "We hang out, crack jokes about one another. It certainly helps. It's good, knock on wood. As long as our line works hard we'll have success."
Capitals Note: Center Dainius Zubrus (groin muscle strain) skated with the team during yesterday's practice and afterward said he hopes to be in the lineup soon. He will miss his sixth consecutive game tonight, and ninth this season because of the injury. "I feel as a good as I've felt this season, but at the same time I'd hate to screw it all up by coming back too early," Zubrus said. He could return tomorrow against Buffalo or Thursday at Florida.