Coach Dale Hunter said part of the reason he mixed up the Capitals’ lines for Tuesday’s game was to get better matchups for his team against the Nashville Predators. The switches turned out to be beneficial for the Capitals, who found chemistry and even-strength success within the new combinations.
“The lines played well together; I think they had some chemistry,” Hunter said Wednesday when asked if the groups might stick together for Friday’s game in New Jersey. “But I’m a game-to-game kind of guy, everybody plays a different system and we have to adjust to it just like they adjust to us.”
The decision to create two top lines, one with Alex Ovechkin, Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer and the other with Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin, prohibited Nashville from targeting one group to shut down.
The Predators have split up their all-star defensive tandem of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter more often this season to provide depth on the blueline, so the move wasn’t purely a reaction to Washington’s line combinations. That’s not to say it didn’t play a part, though. While Weber and Suter did take shifts together on Tuesday night, they were also paired with other defensemen frequently, which allowed for more space offensively.
“Normally those two guys are out against definitive top lines and tonight I thought we spread it out real well,” Brouwer said. “When they’ve got to pick and choose who they’re going to cover — and they split up Weber and Suter for the most part of the game — we can isolate one of them, put it in their corner, finish our checks on them and just make it no fun for them to go back and get pucks.”
The 4-1 win over the Predators marked the first time since Oct. 30, 2010 that Washington received goals from Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin on the same night. While it’s only one game, balancing the offense in that manner is one of the traits the Capitals want to incorporated in their play on a more consistent basis.