COLUMBUS, Ohio — It seems that there aren’t many line combinations Washington Capitals Coach Barry Trotz hasn’t tried. The many moves have been intended to spread the team’s firepower throughout the lineup and spark an offense that’s averaging 2.53 goals per game. That ranks in the bottom half of the league, not satisfactory for a team with Washington’s forward depth.
Against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night, with new forward trios once again, the Capitals scored one goal, giving them three five-on-five goals in their last four games. So, now what?
“It’s up to the group,” Trotz said. “I mean, everybody’s capable of offense. We’ve got to just generate. You know, some guys have got to find the back of the net. Some guys have got to be committed to trying to score. Right now, some guys are not committed enough to score, so they’re going to be on the outside. They’re not going to score.”
Trotz was asked to clarify what he meant by “some guys are not committed enough to score.”
“Well, you get a chance to take the puck to the net or find the back of the net, you’ve got to put it through the back of the net,” he said. “There were a couple times where we could’ve delivered the puck to the net or took a step to that interior and we pulled up and we looked for — we had zone time, but sometimes you’ve got to deliver it to the hard areas, and we didn’t do that at certain times.”
With the Capitals’ overtime loss to the Blue Jackets, they’re 9-4-2, now fourth in the Metropolitan Division with the defending-champion Pittsburgh Penguins coming to Verizon Center on Wednesday night. Trotz and the team are starting to sound like a broken record, reiterating that the Capitals are often generating chances but unable to finish on them. The power play, typically among the NHL’s most potent, has one goal in its last 19 chances.
The lines the team debuted at Columbus were taken as a message from Trotz that some skilled players need to start producing, and only Nicklas Backstrom did against the Blue Jackets with a goal in the second period. He scored again in the third period, but it was then disallowed after Columbus successfully challenged it was offsides.
Captain Alex Ovechkin, playing with grinding, defensive center Jay Beagle, played just 14:12, the second-lowest time on ice he’s logged in his career in a full game. The only time he played less, he was a rookie and was five games into his career. Ovechkin is second on the team in scoring with seven goals and four assists, but he doesn’t have a point in four straight games.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, the team’s leading scorer last season, has two goals and five assists. Andre Burakovsky has two goals, both of which were scored on opening night. Veteran Justin Williams has one goal and one assist. Center Lars Eller, acquired in the offseason to boost the team’s secondary scoring, has two goals with no assists. Offensively gifted defensemen John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov have yet to score a goal.
“It’s certainly no secret that we’re not exactly filling the net right now,” Williams said. “You try and simplify things as best you can. You try and win 1-0 games, 2-1 games, and then you play smart until it comes back. And obviously, it will. But you know, you go through a little lull, and sometimes, it’s good for the team to come out and get out from a little slump, but we know we have to work hard doing it.”
Trotz said he wants to see a balance “of will and skill” from his players, and Williams seemed to echo that after the game in Columbus. “You try to tip one in, you try to shoot from a bad angle, you just try and create stuff by working hard. Once you do that, after you put your hard work first, then your skill should take over,” he said.
Players have dismissed the notion of frequent line changes inhibiting chemistry with linemates, as several have said they’re comfortable playing with anyone and it’s good to get experience playing with different teammates in case injuries hit. Ovechkin said it’s to be expected early in the season. Entering Tuesday night’s game, the Capitals were taking the majority of even-strength shot attempts in games, ranked eighth in the league in Corsi-for percentage, but that’s recently started trending in the wrong direction.
“I think we have chances, but I think we should have a lot more,” Burakovsky said Monday. “I just think we have to put a lot more pucks toward the net and crash the net. I think we’re way too much in the corners and protecting the puck down there. That’s not how we score goals. You could be down there to out-work them and then get a chance, but I just think we have to be more greasy in front of the net.
Said Williams: “You stay with the process. I’ve certainly been on teams before that have had problems scoring goals. You feel like a big burden is on your shoulder, like I do and a lot of guys do. But it’s a good feeling when you work hard through it and it comes through. You can’t turn the other way. You need to face it head on. I think we’re stepping in the right direction.”