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Barry Trotz shuffles Caps’ top-six forward combos

WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 15: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals looks on against New York Islanders during the second period at Verizon Center on October 15, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Wanting to jump-start the team’s offense, Capitals Coach Barry Trotz made a change to his forward lines before the team’s western Canada road trip, switching the right wings on the top two lines to have Andre Burakovsky playing with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. T.J. Oshie skated with center Nicklas Backstrom and left wing Marcus Johansson.

“I just want to get a few guys going,” Trotz said. “I think I can balance them out a little bit, just moving them around. We need to get more from all our lines, so you move one piece at a time and see what the common denominator is. It’s not an indictment on anybody. I just think we can get more out of our lines, so we can keep doing the same thing, or we can try to make adjustments, so let’s find out now.”

Line changes, especially early in the season and after a loss, aren’t uncommon, but Ovechkin and Oshie have rarely played apart since the Capitals traded for Oshie before last season. The all-Swede line of Johansson, Backstrom and Burakovsky was posting strong possession numbers through the first five games of the season while handling some of the most challenging defensive assignments.

But to Trotz’s point, that line hasn’t scored much at even strength since the season opener, when Burakovsky scored twice. Johansson got an unassisted goal against the Florida Panthers on Thursday.

Burakovsky didn’t play with Ovechkin last season, but the two have similar styles; both are unafraid to shoot the puck.

“Let him shoot,” Ovechkin said. “It’s nice to have two shooters on the same line. It’s going to be easy for Kuzy to find someone obviously. We’re going to try to do our best and try to score goals in the game.”

Said Burakovsky: “We both like to shoot, but obviously, the guy that has the best opportunity is going to get the puck. Only because we both like to shoot doesn’t mean we’re going to shoot from everywhere. We’ve got to give each other good opportunities to shoot.”

Burakovsky played with Kuznetsov during the second half of last season, and the two had considerable chemistry together. Playing with Kuznetsov helped snap Burakovsky out of his early-season slump, when he went without a goal in 25 games for one stretch. Burakovsky finished the year with 16 even-strength goals, second on the team to just Ovechkin.

“Two good young guys,” Burakovsky said of Kuznetsov. “I’m having some chemistry with Kuzy, and just give the puck to Ovi and he can shoot from everywhere and he can score. This line could be really good, too.”

Here’s how the lineup looked at practice on Monday:

Forwards
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Andre Burakovsky
Marcus Johansson-Nicklas Backstrom-T.J. Oshie
Zach Sanford-Lars Eller-Justin Williams
Daniel Winnik-Jay Beagle-Tom Wilson
Brett Connolly

Defensemen
Karl Alzner-Matt Niskanen
Dmitry Orlov-John Carlson
Brooks Orpik-Nate Schmidt
Taylor Chorney

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