Entering Tuesday’s game, the Washington Capitals’ third line was in a slump. It hadn’t scored since March 1, and that goal was with Mike Richards centering the trio, not Marcus Johansson. Jason Chimera had gone nine games without a point. Johansson had one point at even strength in that span.
Coach Barry Trotz started to sense frustration, and change seemed imminent. Against San Jose, he made Richards the third-line center, moving Johansson to wing and bumping right wing Tom Wilson from the third line to the fourth line. When the team reconvened for Monday’s practice, every forward formation was different, and Johansson and Chimera got a boost in the form of Justin Williams.
Against the Carolina Hurricanes, Williams snapped the third line’s goal drought with an assist from Chimera.
— CAPITALS HILL (@CapitalsHill) March 16, 2016
“He’s such a strong player, a smart player and he’s always in the right spot and he talks a lot out there and makes it easy for the guys he’s playing with,” Johansson said of Williams. “He’s a real great and simple player to play with. … He goes to the dirty areas and gets it done when it needs to get done and that’s a big attribute to have.”
Williams seems to positively influence any forward line he joins. Possession is his strength; according to stats.hockeyanalysis.com, from 2008 to 2014 combined, Williams is first among skaters at even strength with at least 5,000 minutes with a 58.7 Corsi percentage, which measures the percent of shot attempts that go in Williams’s team’s favor when he’s on the ice.
“The best line was the Johansson line,” Trotz said after the 2-1 win against Carolina. “They made a really big statement. Stick went in there on that line and got the goal, but I thought all three of them were really good. They were really skating. They were dangerous offensively. They were good defensively, so I really liked that line.”
Said Johansson: “I think we got going right away. We won the puck battles and won the puck and got to spend a lot of time in the offensive zone because of it, and that’s where it’s the most fun to play. It was good to get a goal out of it as well. You can’t complain when you’re playing with anyone on this team.”
Trotz said the sweeping line changes weren’t “an indictment on anybody,” but rather a spark to try to get the entire lineup going. He especially wanted the team to get back to playing its game, getting traffic in front of the net and trying to strike from point-blank range, which is how Williams scored.
Trotz alluded to the lines potentially changing again before Friday’s game against Nashville. Williams is currently on a four-game point streak, and he has 21 goals and 27 assists this season.
Justin Williams now has 21 goals. If he gets 2 more, he'll have the 3rd highest total for a season in his career (High: 33- 2005-06 w/Canes)
— StatsCentre (@StatsCentre) March 16, 2016
“I thought his experience would be beneficial for Marcus and Chimmer, who maybe were getting a little bit frustrated,” Trotz said of Williams. “Things weren’t happening on that California trip. But he is really good in those areas.”