Since injuries knocked Alex Ovechkin and Jason Arnott out of the Capitals’ lineup, Coach Bruce Boudreau did what he has often in the past when key forwards are out and loaded up on one line. In Montreal on Saturday though, the coaching staff decided to create a few more alignments.
Marco Sturm went to the top left-wing spot with Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin and they put Brooks Laich at center on the third line with Matt Hendricks and Eric Fehr on the wings.
Laich won 11 of 17 faceoffs against the Canadiens and his group was effective both offensively but more importantly in the 2-0 victory, in their own end.
As for the top unit, although it’s difficult to know what the longevity of any particular line combination is Backstrom had a superb game and appeared to mesh well with Sturm, whom he had little experience skating with. Each member of the line finished with a plus-2 rating as they accounted for both of the team’s goals and they combined for 12 shots – seven alone by Backstrom who played 21:25, over two minutes more than any other forward.
Boudreau was asked to share the reasoning behind the moves after the win.
“We thought there was a lack of scoring no matter how we did it without Arnott and Ovi and even Eric Fehr, who came back tonight,” Boudreau said. “The strength of your team, if you want it, has got to be in the middle so we thought we’d rather have weakness on the sides -- if you can call it weakness or lack of scoring is probably a better term -- and strength down the middle. I thought we had the strength down the middle, four NHL center icemen that can play with anybody.”
When the Capitals succeed at shutting a team down the way they did the Canadiens on Saturday, while it is certainly a testament to the defense it also speaks to how well the forwards and particularly the centers helped out in their own end. With Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, Laich and Boyd Gordon the Capitals seemed to discover some of the balance it needed on all four lines.