After a disappointing road trip through Western Canada, where the Caps managed only 5 goals in 3 games, Barry Trotz debuted yet another set of line combinations at the Capitals practice Tuesday morning.
The most notable trio was a first line that had Andre Burakovsky skating with Joel Ward and Alex Ovechkin, who has not recorded a point in his last four games, while Nicklas Backstrom dropped to the second line with Marcus Johansson.
“Moving guys around, you send different messages,” Trotz said. “The best message I can tell you on this trip probably is the response of a guy like Joel Ward. I know he can play better. I don’t ask guys to play higher or better than they are capable of playing, but I knew he had another level and he got my message and he responded and gets rewarded.”
Ward understands that this latest shift is partially a message-sending tactic by the head coach.
“It’s a line shuffle just to get guys fired up a little bit,” he said. “Last game, there were different guys again and I think then in Calgary.”
More than trying to reach and inspire his troops, Trotz’ moves have a tactical purpose.
“We need some balance in our scoring a little bit,” he said. “I think we’re getting it from, I’ll say our bottom six, we need a little more consistency from our top six, game in and game out, and that’s just the group. If we’re going to be a good team, we have to be a deep team. I think we are. I think we’re deep enough that we can come with four lines when we need to.
While some observers of the Caps Tuesday morning practice were surprised to see effective pairs like Backstrom and Ovechkin and Ward and Chimera separated from each other, Trotz noted that these changes are not necessarily permanent.
“The great thing about mixing the lines up, you can always put them back together,” he said, drawing laughs from reporters. “It’s not like you’re written in stone.”
Notes and quotes:
– Matt Niskanen will play in his 500th career game Wednesday night against Detroit. The 27-year-old defenseman, drafted in the first round by Dallas in 2005, played stints with the Stars and Penguins before coming to Washington, where he currently leads the team in ice time.
Niskanen on the milestone:
It’s crazy how fast it’s gone. I can’t believe that it’s that many already I guess. I’ve been pretty lucky to stay relatively healthy and I’ve been around for a little while, so, it’s just a number, but it’s a cool milestone.
I’ve had some good experiences – one real successful year, team-wise, in Dallas, and on some pretty powerful teams in Pittsburgh. I’ve had different roles, both ends of the spectrum as far as defensemen go, so (I’ve) learned a ton everywhere I’ve gone. So, It’s been enjoyable so far and hopefully I got a lot more games coming up.
– Trotz confirmed that Brooks Laich, who suffered an upper body injury against the Florida Panthers on Oct. 18, would not play against Detroit. The Capitals coach did say Laich is “pretty close” to recovering and could return against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, Nov. 1.
– “He’s got a little ways to go,” Trotz said of Tom Wilson’s status after being recalled from Hershey. Trotz said he would decide if Wilson plays against Detroit either Tuesday or Wednesday morning.