Line DancingPosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
Even in the best of times, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau is known for his line-shuffling proclivities. So it should come as no surprise that he has toyed with his forward combinations in each of the last two contests, both Washington losses. After starting out the season with seven straight wins, the Caps have now dropped two straight. That leaves them on a 63-win pace, something no NHL team has ever done and something the 2011-12 Caps won’t do, either. But a couple of losses will get people to picking some scabs, so expect to hear a lot about goaltending (Tomas Vokoun started but Michal Neuvirth finished Saturday’s 7-4 loss to the Canucks), penalty-killing (Caps have allowed four power play goals – half their season’s total – in last two games), and line-shuffling. The top combination of Alex Ovechkin with Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer remained intact at Monday’s practice. The other three combos were as follows: Marcus Johansson with Jason Chimera and Alexander Semin, Brooks Laich with Joel Ward and Matt Hendricks, and Mathieu Perreault with Mike Knuble and Jeff Halpern. Boudreau said after today’s practice at Kettler that the changes he made today wouldn’t necessarily carry over to Tuesday’s game. But like the big brother who says, “Yes means no and no means yes. Do you want me to hit you?,” it doesn’t mean today’s combos won’t carry over to Tuesday’s game, either. “We just didn’t know what the lineup was going to be [Tuesday],” replied Boudreau when asked about his thought process behind Monday’s practice lines. “Seriously. If it was going to be one way, I wanted to see what the lineup looked [like], how this was going to go.” Knuble skated with Perreault and Hendricks for the final two periods of Saturday’s game in Vancouver. In one of his first shifts on that line, we took off on a breakaway and was hauled down by the Canucks’ Alexander Edler, a play that resulted in Knuble being awarded a penalty shot. Knuble cashed in on his penalty shot opportunity for his second goal of the season. Asked to assess Knuble’s play thus far this season, Boudreau responded thusly: “We’ve had him everywhere. He’s been really a slow starter. He’s got five points I think [actually, six] in nine games. He’s not doing anything that we didn’t think he wasn’t going to do. It’s just that right now we’ve got four right wingers. And one of them has to play the left side. And we’ve tried Alex Semin, we’ve tried Brouwer, we’ve tried Knuble. We’ve tried people over there. We’re just trying to get the right fits.” Here’s what’s interesting. Knuble is a slow starter. He had a goal and four points – all at even-strength – in the first nine games of last season. And he started the 10th game of last season right where he’d been for the first nine, on the right side of a line with Ovechkin and Backstrom. This season, Knuble has barely played at all with Ovechkin and Backstrom. But he has outperformed both his old linemates at even strength in the first nine games. Ovechkin has averaged 14:44 a night at even-strength this season, and has collected three even-strength points. Backstrom has four points at even-strength while averaging 14 minutes a night in that situation. Knuble is fifth among Capitals forwards in even-strength ice time at 12:28 per game, but he is tied for the team lead in even-strength points (five) among forwards with Semin, Johansson, Chimera and Perreault. From these eyes, anyway, Knuble is not underperforming. And his numbers are identical to those of Semin, who has had more ice time, far more power play ice time and five more minor penalties. Knuble is a strong complementary player who needs to play with skilled players to be effective. Perreault is a skilled player, the Caps' fourth line skates more minutes than most, and Knuble still gets some power play time (he's seventh among the team's forwards in power play ice time per game). Still, the Caps might be able to maximize his production -- or even jumpstart Ovechkin and Backstrom at even-strength -- by reuniting that threesome. In other news, the Caps placed left wing D.J. King on waivers on Monday. “We’re just trying to find the level of interest at this stage,” says Boudreau of King. “We want him to play. But it might mean nothing. It doesn’t mean we’re sending him down or any of those things. He might be in the lineup [Tuesday] night.” “I think they’re just being fair to me,” says King. “I haven’t really had the opportunity to play that much. They’re just seeing what’s out there. Maybe I’ve got a chance to go play somewhere else and give me an opportunity to play a little more.” King has played in just 17 of Washington’s last 91 regular-season games. He works diligently at practice every day and has done everything that has been asked of him. A change of scenery would be best for the 27-year-old King. “I need to play hockey,” says King. “It is what it is. If I want to prolong my career in the NHL, I’ve got to play hockey. No one can prolong their career if they’re only playing 15 games a year.”
When Ducks winger Teemu Selanne started his NHL career back in the fall of 1992, Caps center Cody Eakin – who is making his NHL debut tonight – was about 18 months old. Selanne – then of the original Winnipeg Jets – played in his first game against the Caps on Monday, Oct. 26, 1992 in Winnipeg.