Capitals might move Ovechkin to third line as they face elimination
ARLINGTON, Va. — Capitals right winger T.J. Oshie wore a white T-shirt after practice Friday with large green letters that read “NEXT LEVEL,” with smaller print referring to the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Capitals, who have not been to the Eastern Conference finals since 1998, are trying to get to the next level in the playoffs and, once again, the Penguins stand in their way.
Washington trails 3-1 and faces elimination when they host the Penguins on Saturday night in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Capitals had star Alex Ovechkin skate with the third line during practice here Friday, perhaps to show how desperate they are.
“We are trying to find something to get our game going. We need to play our best game,” Oshie said. “We should be putting pucks in the net.”
If Ovechkin stays on the third line, the first line would be Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom and Andre Burakovsky.
“Blame on me. I have to play better,” Ovechkin said Friday on the move. “Just trying to get three lines going.”
Capitals coach Barry Trotz was a little bit more diplomatic about the possible move to the third line. Trotz stopped short Friday of saying Ovechkin would skate with the third line Saturday.
“We are just looking at different things,” Trotz said. “We have been using 11 forwards the last couple of games. We are just trying to find a way to do something different.
“It was an opportunity for us to put him in there and get some reps with Lars (Eller) and Tom (Wilson) on the third line Friday. It is an opportunity for us to get a little more production out of the third group. They have not been hitting the back of the net a lot.”
Eller said, “We believe we can still score goals. We have to start capitalizing on our chances.”
Ovechkin has nine goals and 10 assists in 18 career postseason games when the Capitals face elimination.
“Ovi is a candidate (for the third line). He was disappointed in his game in Game 4,’ ” Trotz said. “Bottom line is we are going to need him to be very good. He needs to respond this next game. We need contributions from everyone in our lineup. We obviously don’t have any wiggle room. Obviously, a big, important game tomorrow. We are very capable of winning three games (in a row). It is a challenge. The challenge is a big one, but at the same time, it is not impossible.”
Washington rallied from a 3-1 deficit twice in the playoffs, the most recent in 2009 in the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Rangers.
Now they may try to do so by moving Ovechkin.
“Shake things up,” said Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen, who played for the Penguins in 2013-14 before coming to Washington. “The reality is we have to get better in all areas. We have to focus on one game. That is all we can do right now.”
“The only thing that is missing is the goals,” Burakovsky said. “I just have to execute a little bit better.”
The Capitals moved Wilson from the fourth line to third line during the first-round series against Toronto.
“To me that changed the series,” Trotz said.
While the Capitals focus on themselves, Trotz said he wouldn’t be surprised if Penguins star center Sidney Crosby played Saturday after missing Game 4 with a concussion.
“Sid is a very intelligent young man. He will make the right decision,” said Trotz, aware that Crosby practiced Friday.
As usual there was a large number of fans on hand for the morning practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Signs read “We Believe!” and “Let’s Go Caps!” and another wished a happy birthday to Eller, who turns 28 on Monday.
“We have to establish a tone back in our building,” Trotz said of playing at the Verizon Center. “We have to come out with a lot of focus and a lot of purpose.”
David Driver is a freelance writer.