Photo: Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images
When the Capitals lost a tough contest to the Calgary Flames Monday night, some Caps fans were beginning to panic. Many thought the Capitals finally hit their stride not too long ago when they won five of their first six games in the month of November including a complete game performance over the hated Penguins. Since that stretch, Washington lost badly to Nashville and Colorado on the road and then came home to begin a critical stretch of five games in seven days, including four at home.
While Washington got off on the right foot with a win over the Wild on Saturday, the Monday night loss to the Flames was a tough one to swallow. One issue that was common and has been throughout the season was that the two biggest and longtime star veterans of the team, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, hadn’t been paired on the same line all season. Going back to last season, they hadn’t shared the same line since the second round series against the Penguins. They’ve been separated since Trotz moved Ovechkin to the third line when the Capitals were facing a 3-1 series hole.
Asked Trotz why the hesitation to reunite Ovechkin and Backstrom. Said there isn’t any. So, why hasn’t he done it?
“Just don’t feel like it.”
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) November 21, 2017
On Wednesday morning, Trotz was a guest on 106.7 The Fan’s “Sports Junkies” and he elaborated more as to why he hasn’t put Backstrom and Ovechkin on the same line.
“Well I think they’ve been together for a long time. I think Kuzy (Evgeny Kuznetsov) is a guy that can add some speed to that group so with the losses of guys like Marcus Johansson… I put Kuzy in that position (on the second line) with Ovi to give them a bit more speed. The game has gotten a lot quicker so we felt that was necessary and then also the ability for someone else to play with Ovi.”
Then Trotz went on and said, “Ovi is not the easiest guy in the world to play with. Anytime you see Ovi at the World Championships or playing in different tournaments and the players who play with him, it’s hard to get some chemistry with him. He’s a difficult player to play with. Some players are naturally a bit more mobile if you will and I think Ovi, the way he scores, he’s a little more instinctive.”
The Capitals didn’t have a morning skate that Wednesday prior to their game with the Ottawa Senators but Trotz spoke to the media prior to the game. He told reporters that there weren’t going to be any changes to the lineup. Then when warmups were underway, who was taking rushes together? Ovechkin and Backstrom. So Trotz pretty much trolled everybody.
— Alex Prewitt (@alex_prewitt) November 22, 2017
With just 10 seconds left in the opening period Backstrom got the puck, fed it diagonally to center ice for Alex Chiasson. Chiasson fed the puck cross-ice to Ovechkin and he rushed down the ice with nobody except goaltender Craig Anderson in front of him. Ovechkin buried it and it set Capital One Arena into bedlam in an all-too-familiar feeling.
— #CapsGiving🦃 (@Capitals) November 23, 2017
Late in the second period at 17:07, both Ovechkin and Backstrom shared time in the penalty box. Ovechkin was called for high-sticking after he took a hit by Cody Ceci. Backstrom was called for slashing after sticking up for Tom Wilson as he was cross checked to the face by Ben Harpur. Wilson would later take a penalty himself on the ensuing penalty kill to join his fellow linemates.
In all, the Capitals won the Thanksgiving Eve contest 5-2. After enjoying Turkey Day with their families the Caps returned to action on Black Friday to begin a big back-to-back stretch. First up was a home contest against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the hottest team in the league. While the visitors struck first, the Caps would tie things up late in the opening period as the top line was on a rush down the ice. Backstrom fed the puck to Wilson, then to Ovechkin and he blasted it in.
— #CapsGiving🦃 (@Capitals) November 24, 2017
That goal would be the jump-start the Capitals needed and they went on to win 3-1. That assist by Backstrom on Ovechkin’s goal was the 219th time that Backstrom assisted on an Ovechkin goal. Doing the math, Backstrom has contributed to 38.22% of Ovechkin’s goals in his career. While Backstrom still hasn’t scored a goal since Oct. 14, don’t be surprised to see him light the lamp soon with Ovechkin returning the favor by assisting on it.
These last two wins put the Capitals in a better position than when they started the five in seven day stretch. Washington has improved their record to 13-10-1 with 27 points, sitting in the top wild card spot only a point behind the Islanders for third place in the Metropolitan Division. There’s no telling if any more changes to the lineup will be made in the near future but so far it’s been working and as the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The Capitals hope to continue their momentum Saturday night against Toronto.
By Michael Marzzacco