Forward Thinking

Posted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel

After Thursday’s practice, I asked Caps coach Bruce Boudreau if he thought about moving struggling left winger Alex Ovechkin to the right side in an effort to jumpstart his captain’s offensive production. “A whole lot of things have occurred to me,” said Boudreau. “I’ve just got to figure out which ones I’m going to use.” Friday morning’s practice lines might just provide a window into Boudreau’s thinking. Ovechkin is on the right side of a line with rookie Marcus Johansson in the middle and Brooks Laich on the left. Nicklas Backstrom is manning the middle of a unit with Alexander Semin on the left and Mike Knuble on the right. While Boudreau did move Ovechkin to the right side, he separated the winger from Backstrom, his usual pivot. “Him and Nicky are both in slumps so I am trying to get them away from each other,” says Boudreau of Ovechkin and Backstrom. “I think Marcus is playing pretty well, so maybe that will work.” Jay Beagle is centering for Jason Chimera and Eric Fehr and David Steckel is between some combination of Mathieu Perreault, Matt Hendricks and D. J. King. Coming off a 5-0 loss at New Jersey on Nov. 22, Boudreau moved Ovechkin to the right side of a line with Laich on the left and Backstrom in the middle for the following game, a Nov. 24 contest with the Hurricanes in Carolina. The Caps won that game, 3-2 with Backstrom producing a pair of goals and Ovechkin picking up a trio of assists along with 10 shots on goal. Washington returned home and Boudreau kept the Ovechkin line together. The Caps throttled Tampa Bay, 6-0. Semin had a hat trick in that game while Ovechkin and Backstrom each contributed a pair of assists. The experiment ended after that. Coincidentally, that Tampa Bay game marks the last time the Caps had more than one power play goal in a game. They had two extra-man tallies in that tilt, and have had one or zero in each of 17 games since. The streak of 17 straight games without multiple power play tallies is the team’s longest since it concluded the 2006-07 season with 18 straight games without a crooked number in power play goals. Now, Boudreau’s boys are again in need of a jumpstart. Ovechkin had 10 goals in his first 18 games but has just four in his last 23 contests. Backstrom is without a goal in 15 straight games, his longest drought since his rookie season of 2007-08. Semin hasn’t scored since Nov. 28, a span of 13 games. That’s his longest drought since 2006-07. Laich has one goal in his last 15 games. Despite having all of their top offensive talents mired in lengthy and simultaneous slumps, the Caps are holding their own. “It’s a challenge but I think we’ve met the challenge,” said Boudreau on Thursday. “It’s proved one thing, we can have success without our best players scoring. We don’t like it; I think it’d be a lot easier if they were all scoring, but they’re not. We’ve found ways to adjust in the last seven games; we’re 5-0-2. If we can continue playing that way and they end up doing what they’re capable of doing, I think it’ll make life a lot easier for us.” Each of the struggling forwards is committed to getting back to “what they’re capable of doing.” Ovechkin took 16 shots in Tuesday’s 1-0 loss to Tampa Bay, getting eight of them on net. “When you shoot the puck you’re just getting confidence again,” says the Caps’ captain. “When you shoot the puck, if it goes in it goes in. If not, maybe [the goalie] makes a good save, or a lucky save or maybe I just missed the net and didn’t score. Shoot the puck, that’s the key.” Ovechkin’s goal drought has led to a points drought for Backstrom, who has seven assists during the 15 games in which he has not scored. “I think, especially on the power play, we just have to move the puck a little bit better than we have been, a little bit faster,” says Backstrom. “And more shots, I think. When you haven’t been scoring in a while, you’re squeezing the stick a little bit more. That’s the problem. That’s normal, I think. The only thing you can do is work harder and try to move the puck a little bit faster and of course go a little bit harder to the net and maybe pick up that rebound or something.” Laich tallied five times in his first 15 games this season, but has just three goals in his last 26 contests. Last season, 12 of his 25 goals came on the power play. This season, he’s scored four of his eight goals with the man-advantage. For him, the power play holds the key to the Caps’ struggling offense. “Everybody talks about our offense being down,” says Laich. “Our five-on-five play is okay. Last year I think we were about 20 power play goals ahead of what we are this year. If you add those power play goals to our totals now, we’re on top of the league again in goals. “The power play has to come around. We spend a lot of time on it. We spend countless hours of video to try and dissect other teams’ penalty kills. “Ultimately, if things aren’t going in – it sounds so simple and so clichéd – but you’ve just got to shoot the puck and get to the net. Stop trying to be so cute. Be urgent to shoot the puck. Get the puck, shoot the puck. Shoot it hard. Get it back, shoot it again. Just a relentless attack at the net. Finally, if you keep pressuring, just with the law of averages you’re going to finally get one in the net.” On Saturday against the Panthers, the Caps will likely trot out four new forward line combinations. How long the units remain intact is likely up to them. “It gives them a different approach and a different mindset,” says Boudreau. “Listen, it might last a shift, it might last the whole game. A lot depends on how they play.”

next up:

Two Caps Tapped For All-Star Trip

January 14, 2013

Today was All-Star day, as in the day the NHL told the world which 36 players and which 12 rookies would be forgoing a few days off at month’s end to head to Raleigh on Jan. 30 for its not-quite-annual glorified exhibition game. Among Capitals players, Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green were named to the

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