Washington Capitals Coach Barry Trotz gathered the three members of his first line on Monday for a sort of mediation. The season is just two games old, but the trio of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie has looked disjointed when on the ice together, kept off the score sheet so far.
Trotz isn’t concerned, but there’s no harm in communication.
“It starts right in practice; let’s talk, let’s get together, let’s get on the same page,” Trotz said. “I talked to all three members today, and just get on the same page. Once you get on the same page, bring the work ethic. They’re all leaders, they’re all tremendously talented, so they’ll figure it out.
“The biggest thing is finding their game in our game. Find their game as a unit of three, as long as it fits in the five-man unit. That’s the decision-making, that’s the work ethic, the execution all that. That line should be fine. It was fine when I put it together many times last year, so it’ll be fine again.”
Kuznetsov played roughly 178 minutes with Ovechkin and Oshie last season, and the trio had an even-strength Corsi-for percentage of 54.75, the shot attempts on the ice tilted in their favor. Against a Colorado Avalanche team that’s scored 10 goals through two games — and against two good teams in the Dallas Stars and Pittsburgh Penguins — Washington will likely need its first line to start producing again on Tuesday night.
“I think it’s just a matter of all three of us playing well, and things will start falling for us,” Oshie said. “We’re not in an early panic mode or anything like that. We’ve already talked a little bit. Like I said, we’re right there, just one or two reads where one guy’s thinking one thing and the other guy’s not thinking the other thing. They carried me in Pitt a little bit when I didn’t have my best game there. Then last game, all three of us didn’t have our best game. Hopefully, we’re getting it out of the way early and we’ll find our game soon here.”
Said Trotz: “They’re on the dance floor. They’ve just got to dance to the same song.”
>>> Tuesday night’s game will mark a Washington debut for forward Brett Connolly, who signed with the Capitals in unrestricted free agency. He’s expected to supplant rookie Zach Sanford as the left wing on a third line with center Lars Eller and Justin Williams.
Trotz said the lineup change was about getting Connolly into the lineup and not an indictment on Sanford’s play.
“It’s a little tough,” Trotz said. “I told Zach that I’m very happy with him for two games into it. He’s coming out tonight, but I thought the first game, Zach was a little bit nervous, and he was fine. In the second game, I thought he was even better. But I want to keep everybody engaged. We’ve got 80 games left, so I want to make sure that [Connolly], being a new player, he feels a part of it because we’re going to need everybody to be successful.”
>>> Goaltender Philipp Grubauer will start his first game of the season on Tuesday night. The Capitals don’t play a back-to-back set of games until the Western Canada trip at the end of the month, so Trotz figured getting Grubauer some game action before then against a Western Conference opponent was the fair thing. Trotz said that, ideally, Grubauer will get one game to every three Braden Holtby plays this season.
“The schedule is a little bit more compressed this year with the bye week, so everything is more packed together, a couple more back-to-backs, I think,” Grubauer said. “It’s nice to get a couple more games maybe this year.”
The timing is a little curious only because the team will hold a pregame ceremony against Colorado to honor Holtby’s historic 2015-16 season, when he tied Martin Brodeur’s record of 48 wins in a single season. All fans in attendance on Tuesday will receive a Holtby “fan banner.”
“I didn’t toss and turn about it,” Trotz said. “I asked some of the coaches and Mitch [Korn] and all that. One way or the other, I think we have to do what’s best for our hockey team, and this is a game we sort of said that Grubauer would get. Whenever our team decides to honor someone, it just happens to fall on this game, but it’ll be well deserved.”
Here’s how the Capitals’ lineup is expected to look Saturday night:
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-T.J. Oshie
Marcus Johansson-Nicklas Backstrom-Andre Burakovsky
Brett Connolly-Lars Eller-Justin Williams
Daniel Winnik-Jay Beagle-Tom Wilson
Karl Alzner-Matt Niskanen
Dmitry Orlov-John Carlson
Brooks Orpik-Nate Schmidt
Philipp Grubauer (starter)