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Barry Trotz pleased with his rejiggered forward trios

(Nick Wass/Associated Press)

The Washington Capitals’ forward corps mostly enjoyed stability throughout the regular season, with changes to the forward lines relatively sparse. But when the team’s playoff hopes were secure for the entire half of the season, Coach Barry Trotz started to tinker.

The occasional moves were made to jolt the Capitals when he sensed complacency might be settling in, but they were also a form of experimentation. With Washington struggling to score on Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray for the majority of this Eastern Conference semifinal series, Trotz reverted to forward trios he had used earlier this season.

Though struggling, Evgeny Kuznetsov was bumped up to the first line to center Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie. That created an all-Swede second line of center Nicklas Backstrom and wingers Andre Burakovsky and Marcus Johansson, a line Trotz had referred to as “Tre Kronor” earlier in the season. Justin Williams moved down to a third line with center Jay Beagle and left wing Jason Chimera. That left a defense-oriented fourth line of center Mike Richards, Tom Wilson and Daniel Winnik.

The Capitals won with that lineup Saturday night, beating the Penguins, 3-1, but it’s unclear whether they will stick with those lines for a Game 6 in Pittsburgh, when they won’t have the advantage of last change on the road. The early reviews from Trotz on Sunday afternoon seemed positive. He pointed out how he thought the Beagle line, which scored the only even-strength goal of the game, was “effective” and “on the puck.” The first line with Kuznetsov was “real strong,” Trotz said.

“If we’re going to be productive and successful in this series, we’re going to need everybody chipping in and producing,” Trotz said. “A lot of times in series, the dynamic players in [Sidney] Crosby and [Evgeni] Malkin and Kuznetsov and Backstrom, sometimes they nullify each other, so your depth of your lineup can be the difference in you winning or losing a series.”

The Capitals had only four shots on goal in the first period and just 19 for the game. Pittsburgh had 31 shots on goal, but after the game, Backstrom said the Capitals had played better than the shot disparity indicated. He was right: Washington had more high-danger scoring chances than the Penguins, a reversal from other games in the series, when the Capitals produced quantity but lacked quality.

In 14 minutes 36 seconds of even-strength ice time with the first line, Kuznetsov had two shots on goal, including one in the second period that came on a two-on-one with Oshie. After leading the team in scoring during the regular season, Kuznetsov hasn’t scored an even-strength goal since March 1.

Trotz kept Backstrom matched up against Crosby on Saturday night, so it’s unclear whether he’ll keep Kuznetsov as the first-line center in Pittsburgh, as Penguins Coach Mike Sullivan might pit Crosby against the top line again, and Backstrom is more reliable defensively.

“His game, I would say through the playoffs, hasn’t been to the level that I think we saw him breakout last year,” Trotz said of Kuznetsov. “At the same time, obviously, he’s getting a little bit more attention and harder matchups than maybe he did last year, but I think his game is starting to come around. I thought it was very encouraging last night, the way he played and obviously the change with him playing with Alex and T.J. – that line was real strong last night. From my standpoint, I really trust that Kuzy will be productive. He’s too good of a player not to be.”

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