Losing Mikhail Grabovski to a left ankle injury in New Jersey forced the Capitals to shuffle their lineup deck once again and try to create balance without one of the team’s top two playmakers in the mix.
Within the changes, the of-the-moment configuration of Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson seems to have struck an appropriate chord. That trio, united after Grabovski hobbled off the ice in Newark, combined for two of Washington’s six goals on the weekend, which is no small feat for a squad looking to create consistent offense.
Over the past several weeks Beagle and Wilson have developed a familiarity with each other that has allowed them to make successful reads and decisions with the puck to move the play out of their own end. It’s not surprising that they’ve found some chemistry given that Beagle has spent 59.3 percent of his even-strength shifts with the rookie winger and Wilson seen 43.7 percent of his with the hard-working center. So Coach Adam Oates opted to keep the two of them together when he reconfigured the lineup.
“You want to be able to put them out there at all situations,” Oates said. “Playing with Chimmer, all of a sudden you’ve got three fast guys that are big and strong that if they can continue to protect the puck in the right spots they’ll be a very dominant line.”
Making the correct plays is key for both Beagle and Wilson, no matter who they play with. Given their limited ice time as fourth liners they’ve been working to clean up their breakouts so that whenever they’re on the ice they can spend less time trapped in their own zone – a valuable trait regardless what type of role they’re in.
As they’ve learned to read off each other, their outlet passes are cleaner and they’ve been able to sustain momentum-building forechecks along with creating the occasional scoring chance.
“Two or three weeks ago we started playing together again and all of a sudden something clicked. I was starting to read off him, he was starting to read off me,” Beagle said. “We were playing a lot in the offensive zone. We weren’t getting goals but we were playing down low, we were playing with a lot of energy and it all of a sudden seemed to click and when you’re breaking out of the zone clean and you get into their end the chances are going to come.”
Said Wilson: “Beags has just done such a good job lately of being in the right spot especially in the D zone, along that wall…..He’s been in the perfect spot as an out for me and that’s such a nice thing if you’re a winger on the wall, knowing he’s going to be there for you and you’re not going to get hammered and if you do get hit the puck will be there and he’ll be there.”
Both Beagle and Wilson are eager to show what they can do with increased responsibility now that Grabovski’s injury has provided such an opportunity. But as they get a little more ice time and perhaps more offensive zone starts, their best course of action may be sticking with the simple approach that has helped them drive the play in recent games.
For Chimera, jumping in with two quick, hard-working forwards is an easy adjustment and he wants to help them find more ways to succeed.
“Willy’s a fun guy to play with. If he’s not going to hit someone, he’s going to hit you. I told him, ‘Don’t worry about anything, just skate. If I’m in your way, knock me over,’” Chimera said. “They’re fun to play with. It’s good to see Beags get rewarded with a goal last game. He’s one of those guys that’s kind of our unsung hero. He works so hard in practice, he’s always one of the last guys out there. It’s nice for him to get a goal. We played pretty well as a line so it’s nice to see.”