Coach Bruce Boudreau tossed another line combination into the mix Saturday, putting Brooks Laich at center between Jason Chimera and Joel Ward in what could possibly be a solid option for a third line.
Both Boudreau and Laich downplayed the significance of the move, but that said the benefits and potential upside of that particular unit are readily apparent.
“When you tweak it and look at it you think, ‘They’d be a pretty good line that might be able to score some goals’ and at the same time they can all skate,” Boudreau said. “They’re big, they’re strong. They should be able to check other team’s top lines. They’re responsible.”
The three sizable forwards – Laich is 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Chimera 6-foot-3, 213 and Ward 6-foot-1, 226 – all excel when trying to create offense down low and create plays along the boards and in the corners. They also have the ability to play a solid defensive game, and if the combination works as well on the ice as it appears on paper it would be a successful recipe.
“It’s no secret I’m a North-South guy and I like to carry the pucks in deep,” Ward said. “If you can get a couple players on your same wavelength, I think that’s beneficial. Hopefully that will work out. I’m pretty positive about it and looking forward to tomorrow.”
Said Chimera: “I’ve played with Brooks in the past and had some success with him — it seems like a good fit. We all skate very well and it’s a big line that could create a lot of down low time and those opportunities that comes with it. It seems good in practice so far.”
Earlier this week, Laich said he would benefit from some consistent starts at center so that he can work on perfecting some of the details of the position, something that he didn't always have time to do while performing spot duty as a pivot. Some of those elements are the specifics of positioning down low, the differences in passing and where he would be receiving the puck and dishing it out at full speed rather than waiting for a pass on the walls, and so on.
That said, even Laich can see the potential in a line where he is working with Chimera and Ward.
“They’re both easy guys to play with and I think I can play to their strengths,” Laich said. “I think it would be a good line – a matchup line if we came against a top scoring line in the league that we had to try to check in order for us to win.”
Playing Laich at center also creates some breathing room on the top two lines where depth at wing has Alexander Semin, Troy Brouwer and Mike Knuble all battling for playing time.
“It gives you options to do things on different nights,” Boudreau said. ”We’ve got technically five, right-handed right wingers who have done really well. We can always move one or two of them over to the left side and move Brooks in the middle. It fits and it works.”
●Michal Neuvirth is expected to start against the Blackhawks Sunday, Boudreau told reporters and Mathieu Perreault will also be in the lineup for the preseason finale.
●With Neuvirth healthy, the Capitals have reassigned goaltender Braden Holtby to Hershey.