Washington Capitals Coach Peter Laviolette continued to tinker with his line combinations Tuesday, hoping to find some chemistry after two major pieces returned to the lineup.
Among its many line changes Sunday, Washington shifted Dylan Strome — who had filled in for Backstrom over the first half of the season — from center to wing. Further down the lineup, Anthony Mantha and Nicolas Aube-Kubel were healthy scratches.
“I don’t think [Sunday] was as pressing as I would’ve liked to have seen offensively,” Laviolette said Tuesday. “So we’ll … try to keep some pairs the same but move it around and try to find the right pieces to go with that.”
At Tuesday’s practice, the Capitals experimented with Lars Eller at wing, shifting him away from his typical role as the third-line center. Strome was back at center, skating between Conor Sheary and Wilson. Eller skated on the left wing with Backstrom at center and T.J. Oshie at right wing.
Laviolette said he spoke with Eller about shifting roles and thought the veteran responded well to the move. Washington’s next game is Wednesday at Philadelphia.
“It looked like he was jumping and playing with a couple of really good players that he probably has some familiarity with, especially Oshie,” Laviolette said. “ … We just made sure he was kind of focusing in the drills on being the winger, but Lars is a smart guy. He’s a guy that we count on to kill penalties and win a game at the end when we’re up a goal, so I’m sure he’ll be able to pick things up.”
Washington tried to shift Eller to the wing late last season, a temporary move that seemed to be a demotion. Eller said Tuesday that he thought this move to wing would be a “fairly easy transition.” Eller played at wing for stretches when he was with Montreal from 2010 to 2016.
“I’m pumped,” Eller said. “I think it will be fun. [I am] playing with two really good players. I think we moved the puck really well today, and so it felt good, the reps we had. I just need a little reps to feel that space out and the patterns. It is a little more about … where to be and timing of coming into the right spaces at the right time.”
Sonny Milano moved to the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Milano, who signed a one-year, $750,000 deal in October, has seven goals and 12 assists in 30 games, including four goals in his past nine games.
“He is a skilled player that competes hard,” Laviolette said last week. “He has come in and has provided good offense for us — good minutes.”
Milano’s rise contributed to Mantha being pushed out of the lineup Sunday. Mantha called the decision a “wake-up call” Monday. Laviolette said he spoke with Mantha and understands the winger is frustrated. It appears Mantha is likely to be a healthy scratch again Wednesday.
“If you’re in this room, you want to play, and he’ll get back in there,” Laviolette said. “I thought he had a good practice today. These decisions are tough. … What kept us in there at the beginning of the year, that depth that we signed and was able to keep us in the mix, now that we’re starting to get players back, it puts extra players in the mix.”
Capitals lines at Tuesday’s practice:— Samantha Pell (@SamanthaJPell) January 10, 2023