After six games of using a top line with the big three of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin, Capitals Coach Dale Hunter reconfigured the top line for Monday’s practice.
Marcus Johansson skated on the left wing with Backstrom and Ovechkin, who was on the right side. It’s a move that adds more speed to the top unit and could potentially open more space offensively as Washington searches for offense after a three-game stretch in which it has recorded just three goals.
“He hasn’t been playing wing a lot but he has a lot of speed. We haven’t been creating as much offense as we would like, so obviously switching around a little bit is maybe an opportunity for us to get better,” Backstrom said. “We haven’t been scoring several games in a row so it’s good to switch it up a little bit. I don’t think we create a lot of chances; that’s why hopefully we switch it up. We look like we don’t have those good chances we normally should have.”
Hunter kept the big three of Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin together for six games, and during that span they recorded five goals, five assists and are a combined minus-9. Under Hunter at even strength, that trio was on the ice for 28 scoring chances for and 15 against, according to statistics kept by resident guru Neil Greenberg.
While the unit did create some offense, it also became prone to the bad habits of over-passing and overlooking defensive zone play and tried to be too creative at the offensive blueline at times, rather than dumping and chasing the puck to establish a forecheck. Johansson’s speed should be an asset to establishing possession in the offensive zone, even if he’s not a true grind-out-pucks-in-the-corners type of player.
There will be a bit of an adjustment as the second-year center plays a game almost exclusively on the wing, and part of this particular configuration may be to move Ovechkin to the right side – away from the side Nashville’s Shea Weber will defend Tuesday night. In the teams’ previous meeting this season, former Coach Bruce Boudreau played Ovechkin on the right side for precisely that reason.
Johansson saw more time on the wing against Colorado, when the Capitals were forced to scramble the lines in the final two periods after Mathieu Perreault left the game because of an illness and suffered a migraine Saturday.
“I played wing the last two games; it’s a little adjustment but it’s fun,” Johansson said. “I get to play and it’s fun to play with Nicky, too — he’s very easy to play with. We haven’t played a lot together, but it’s fun to play with him and see how it goes.”