It illustrated another frustrating night for Washington (3-2-1), which has the fourth-best Corsi-for percentage in the league to start the season with 53.4, meaning that the Capitals are taking the majority of shot attempts during games and likely have good puck possession. But despite boasting a deep forward corps and generating quality scoring chances every night, Washington is ranked 27th in the league with 2.33 goals for per game.
Coming off a second straight loss, Trotz rejiggered his forward lines again, and captain Alex Ovechkin took the moves for what they were: a message to play better offensively.
“The chances are there, obviously,” Ovechkin said. “All of the lines have a chance, and you know, if you don’t score, you can’t win the game. We have to produce more in the offensive zone than we did in the last couple of games.”
The notable changes were reuniting Ovechkin with center Nicklas Backstrom, moving Justin Williams to first-line right wing and Tom Wilson to second-line right wing, and creating a third line of Andre Burakovsky and T.J. Oshie with center Lars Eller. Trotz said the intention was to spread offense throughout the forward corps, potentially making the Capitals a matchup nightmare, especially with Burakovsky and Oshie deeper in the lineup. That approach was successful for the Pittsburgh Penguins when they had Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin on a third line with center Nick Bonino.
The changes would also seemingly give Washington a player who can provide a net-front presence for every trio; on the top two lines those players would be Williams and Wilson. Trotz has stressed that he wants to see the Capitals generate more from directly in front of the net, where the majority of their even-strength scoring has come.
“You’ve got to create some of that in the game, where you’re shooting to create,” Trotz said. “Sometimes, they’re not always high-quality scoring chances, but what you’re doing is putting the puck in play so you can create some of those coverage mismatches.”
Said Williams: “Hockey is about second efforts and not letting anyone take the puck away from us and bearing down when you have chances. We’re a little off in that aspect, and it certainly shows with the last two losses.”
Williams said he doesn’t think the Capitals have “played that great,” a feeling shared by some players after the Edmonton loss. Defenseman Matt Niskanen said the Capitals were “just kind of average” in a lot of areas. The special teams have underwhelmed, and some of Washington’s scoring woes can be attributed to the power play’s drought.
But while the Capitals are frustrated because they’re scoring chances aren’t converting into goals often enough, that they’re consistently creating good chances is reason for optimism, too. On Friday, Trotz spoke of the “hockey gods” and how “they seem to even things out,” if a team continues to play the right way. The Capitals know they need to improve, but there’s also reason to believe they’ll snap out of this scoring slump.
“In an 82-game season, you’re going to have some dry spells where goals are harder to come by, and other times they’re going to just come in bundles,” Trotz said. “You really can’t control the time. Early in the season here, we’re not finding the back of the net.”