Capitals Coach Dale Hunter has experimented with several combinations for a checking line, but over the past month one configuration has stood out with immediate chemsitry. It’s the line of Matt Hendricks, Jay Beagle and Troy Brouwer, or, as they’ve taken to calling themselves lately, the Wolfpack.
While they couldn’t remember exactly who coined the term, it’s a reference to The Hangover movies and a speech that Zach Galifianakis’ character gives about his “wolfpack” growing:
In this case, though, the term seems to reflect the aggressive mentality they display as a group when they’re taking on the task of shutting down an opposing team’s top line.
They haven’t started every game together recently, but over the course of the past several contests they often find themselves assembled once again — because it just seems to work .
“We have a knack to keep going, not sit back and turn and retreat into the neutral zone. We just keep attacking the puck carrier and let them make mistakes,” Hendricks said. “It’s definitely a role that we like to do. It’s a lot of fun when you look at the opponent, usually the best players on their team, and you can see the frustration.”
It’s a group many likely didn’t predict at the start of the season to play such a key role heading into the playoffs, but then again, not much has gone exactly as the Capitals might have planned this year.
Brouwer, brought into play on the top-line right wing spot, has bounced up and down the lineup all season. A year ago at this time, Beagle wasn’t in the lineup consistently and Hendricks was entrenched in a fourth-line role. In the postseason he saw his minutes decrease, eventually to the point where he was a healthy scratch in the second round.
“When a coach gives you a chance like that you work for it, you want to make the most of it and you don’t want to let him down for giving you that opportunity,” said Beagle, who prior to playing in 40 games this season (he missed more than two months with a concussion) had appeared in only 41 in the previous three seasons combined.
“We’re very similar. Usually when you’re similar the line doesn’t work that well, but for some reason this line works,” Beagle said. “They can work the corners, I’ll be the high guy, and I’m confident in both of those guys if they get back first in the d-zone….It’s nice as a centerman, you can be down low in the offensive zone and know that someone’s got your back.”
By always being set on attack mode, the group is able to force opposing teams’ top units to spend more time in their own zone rather than the Capitals’ zone. Their simple style of play is precisely what Hunter wants to see, and it counteracts the instincts of skill players perfectly.
“If you look at us, we get the puck on a breakout; if someone isn’t 100 percent open, we chip pucks out. Skilled guys don’t like chipping pucks, they don’t like chasing,” Hendricks said. “Once they have the puck and they have possession they like to keep it, so when you see them kind of break out of their own zone they’re turning back with our pressure coming right at them. They throw back pucks to their D, they get hit then they can’t handle it, it causes turnovers and we go to work.”