When the Capitals visit Ottawa on Tuesday, their most recognizable player will likely be suiting up next to two of their lesser-known forwards for a third straight game.
Coach Adam Oates put Alex Ovechkin back on a line with center Jay Beagle and right wing Joey Crabb Monday morning and said he intends to start the next game with that trio intact. It’s an unorthodox combination to say the least, but Oates likes how the two grinders complement the star winger’s game.
“I actually thought that they provided a lot of speed for him and could maybe back the ‘D’ off,” Oates said. “And to get back to balance. Obviously, during the course of a game you can change it back and go through combinations. But I liked our balance.”
In the second period against Buffalo, Oates put Ovechkin with his usual linemates from last season, Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer.
Rather than stick with that group as the Capitals head on the road, though, Oates wants to keep Ovechkin with players who tend to attack an opponent in straight lines to maintain an aggressive forecheck. Oates said he believed that Crabb and Beagle helped fuel Ovechkin’s noticeable presence on the forecheck against the Sabres.
“I guess I’m still learning. I like having North-South guys with him,” Oates said. “Maybe sometimes with the other guys they might try and get too creative. And at the time when I did it [against Buffalo] we needed creativity. We needed something. We needed a spark. We need a goal, as opposed to just maybe being more relentless as a team going north. And I think playing with Joey and Beags, they’re going to go north more.”
Over the weekend, both Crabb and Beagle commented how playing with Ovechkin gave them more space to work with offensively than they’ve typically received in their careers. Opponents understandably flocked to Ovechkin, leaving plenty of room for the hard-working Beagle and Crabb to create chances.
“It’s good for everybody,” Ovechkin said Saturday. “For them, they have more ice time, they have opportunity to play against the best ones and, you know, make a score. It’s always nice for me and for them to make creativity out there….It’s opened up space for them too.”
Ovechkin scored his first goal of the season Sunday, the eventual game winner on the power play.
In an unsurprising lineup note, Oates said Michal Neuvirth will make his fourth consecutive start tomorrow at the Senators. Neuvirth is 4-0-0 in his career against Ottawa with a 1.55 goals-against average and .945 save percentage. (More to come about Neuvirth in tomorrow’s dead-tree edition.)
Meanwhile, the Capitals announced that Brooks Laich will join the team in Ottawa and Toronto. Laich hasn’t played a single game or practiced with the team yet this year because of a groin injury he originally suffered while playing in Switzerland during the lockout. He is currently listed as a non-roster player, but is eligible to be activated at any time.