Adam Oates shuffles lines; Alex Ovechkin skates with Mikhail Grabovski and Eric Fehr
(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)
Given that the Capitals fired 85 shots on goal in a pair of back-to-back games earlier this week but managed to score only twice, it wasn’t all that surprising to see Coach Adam Oates switch up the forward line combinations for Wednesday’s practice.
Alex Ovechkin, who is riding a season-long four game goal scoring drought and hasn’t recorded a point in that stretch either, was skating with Mikhail Grabovski and Eric Fehr on the second line. That put Troy Brouwer with Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson, while the third and fourth lines remained the same.
Oates experimented with Ovechkin and Grabovski playing together in the third period of Washington’s 3-1 loss to the Senators Monday and afterward attributed it to the special teams time in that frame.
But Grabovski has been an elixir of sorts for any forwards he’s been paired with this year. Good things simply happen when he’s on the ice as evidenced by the fact that Grabovski’s been on for 56.5 percent of Washington’s goals scored five-on-five. It certainly wouldn’t hurt the Capitals if he can find chemistry with Ovechkin and help spark the league’s leading goal scorer out of this slump.
Oates wasn’t tipping his hand about the reasons for the change but cited wanting to get a different look against the Hurricanes and perhaps make it more difficult for them to determine how to organize their defensive matchups.
“You’re looking for something, a little spark, a little chemistry,” Oates said. “It could go back two shifts into the game.”
The main concern about this configuration of the top two lines would be whether the non-Ovechkin unit would generate enough shots and offense to provide balance. Alone, Ovechkin averages 5.5 shots per game and a trio of him, Grabovski and Fehr would be 9.1. Backstrom, Brouwer and Johansson combined average 5.6 shots per game.
Here’s what the forwards lines looked like
>>Jack Hillen, who has been sidelined by a fractured tibial plateau since the second game of the season, skated briefly Wednesday morning. It’s still a long recovery process, but certainly an encouraging sign to see the defenseman on the ice.
>>Brooks Laich rotated in on drills with the fourth line again in Wednesday’s practice. He’s missed 14 of the last 15 games with a lingering groin injury but said he’s on track to play Thursday against the Hurricanes.
“Adam texted me yesterday, was wondering how I was feeling with the day off. I said I’m coming today with the approach of practicing hard and playing tomorrow,” Laich said. “Felt really good on the ice, gave him a nod after practice and as far as I know I’m in.”
Oates wasn’t quite as definitive, stating that he wants to see how the forward feels Thursday morning. If Laich does play, though, expect him to be eased into game action on the fourth line.
>>Michael Latta also took part in practice, but he is on long-term injured reserve and isn’t eligible to return until Jan. 10 against Toronto.
>>All three goaltenders were on the ice for Wednesday’s practice, but Oates didn’t say afterward who he plans on starting against the Hurricanes. Philipp Grubauer was breaking in new red, white and blue pads.