TORONTO — The Washington Capitals’ contract situation after last season didn’t leave a lot of room for sweeping changes, and the team wasn’t interested in that anyway. General Manager Brian MacLellan largely liked the makeup of his roster, so when he constructed his offseason wish list, it was a short one.
The Capitals felt they lost their second-round series against Pittsburgh because the Penguins had more secondary scoring from their third and fourth lines. MacLellan then addressed that this summer, trading for center Lars Eller and signing free agent winger Brett Connolly.
With a third line of Eller, Connolly and Andre Burakovsky, Washington became one of the deepest teams in the league with all three players reaching double-digit goal totals. But as the top-seeded Capitals find themselves down two-games-to-one in this series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, it’s secondary scoring that they’re again lacking. Toronto’s third and fourth lines have scored four goals while Washington’s has just one, an overtime winner by Tom Wilson.
Before Game 4 at Air Canada Centre, Capitals Coach Barry Trotz has made a slight change to his bottom-six forward corps in hopes of sparking more scoring. Trotz put Wilson with Eller and Burakovsky while bumping Connolly to a fourth line with center Jay Beagle and Daniel Winnik.
“You’d like a little more production out of it, no question,” Trotz said of the third line, which hasn’t scored in the series. “They’ve had some shifts and some zone time, and now they just need to get on the board a little bit.”
As for what Wilson could bring on a line with Eller and Burakovsky, Trotz said, “He’s Tom Wilson. Everybody knows who Tom Wilson is. That’s what he brings.”
Eller and Wilson are a penalty-killing pair, so they have experience playing together in shorthanded situations, and Wilson joked that he and Burakovsky “are always on the same page,” as the two are close friends and neighbors in Washington.
“It’s important for every line to step up in the playoffs,” Wilson said. “The same people can’t do it every night. Our top-six are pretty good at carrying the bulk of the load, but our bottom-six need to chip in when we can.”
The third line was on the ice for Toronto’s game-tying goal in Game 3, and the Maple Leafs scored the game-winning goal on a power play after Eller was called for high-sticking. But Eller’s line is one of the Capitals’ best in driving possession and spending time in the Maple Leafs’ zone. Eller acknowledged the trio would be more successful with more traffic in front of the net. The addition of the 6-foot-4, 217-pound Wilson could help with that.
“I think offensively, we’ve done pretty well in terms of creating looks, creating chances, creating momentum,” Eller said. “As a player, you have to focus on the process and not so much the result. The process has been better and better throughout the series, I think. That’s really the only part you can control most of the time. I think the goals are going to start chipping in soon.”
Said Trotz: “Lars has had a pretty good series; he just hasn’t gotten on the board. We’re just trying to change it up to see if we can get some production out of that line. We’ll go from there.”
Caps have a scare with Holtby
Air Canada Centre got quiet on Wednesday morning when Marcus Johansson accidentally clipped goaltender Braden Holtby up high in a drill during the team’s pregame skate. Holtby was down on the ice for several seconds and Trotz skated over to check on him, but everyone seems to be fine after the incident.
“Obviously, I think they just laughed it off,” Trotz said. “I didn’t even see it. I was looking down at the other end, and all of a sudden, it got quiet, and it was like, okay. I had to sort of catch myself for a second, see if he needed a second or two, and he said, ‘I’m fine.’ He was just shaking it off, and we resumed. Just like anybody, when your goaltender gets bumped over, your heart stops for a second.”
Said Johansson: “He came out a little further than I thought and I tried to get out of the way from [T.J. Oshie’s] shot. It happens. … You never want to see anyone get hurt out there. That was unfortunate, but it happens. He’s all right.”
In the first round of the postseason last year, Holtby got bumped by a teammate in practice and was in some discomfort. He said he was fine, but after the season, it was revealed that Holtby did indeed suffer a lower-body injury and it hindered him in the postseason.
After morning skate on Wednesday, Holtby insisted Johansson didn’t do any serious damage.
“I’m fine,” Holtby said. “It was just a practice play. It happens.”
Holtby got run into at Caps skate … everyone went dead silent for a moment … Braden seems to be OK now pic.twitter.com/jkOG1YnTaV
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) April 19, 2017
Defenseman Karl Alzner will miss a second straight playoff game Wednesday night because of an undisclosed upper-body injury. But Alzner seems to be making some progress, skating on his own for a first time when most of his teammates left the ice after the morning skate.
Trotz said he doesn’t have any further update on Alzner, and he was also asked if defenseman Nate Schmidt, who was on the ice for all three Capitals goals in Game 3, would leave the lineup once Alzner is healthy.
“We’ll just have to see,” Trotz said. “When Karl’s ready and the trainers tell me he’s ready, then we’ll have to make that decision. That’s a what-if question. What if someone gets hurt tonight, too?”