Citing ‘urgency to win’ Capitals change up lines following 0-2 start

Citing ‘urgency’ Caps change up lines following 0-2 start originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Capitals are off to a sluggish start to the 2022-23 season, dropping two games against a pair of Eastern Conference heavyweights in the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs.

Though they entered the third period of each contest down by only one goal, a lack of offensive punch from both their top six forwards and on the power play prompted head coach Peter Laviolette to make several changes heading into Game 3 on Saturday night against the Montreal Canadiens at Capital One Arena.

Center Dylan Strome took the ice with the Capitals’ top line in morning skate Saturday, bumping Evgeny Kuznetsov down to the second line. T.J. Oshie, who was on the third line to begin the year, swapped places with Aliaksei Protas.

Washington’s most notable change, however, was Marcus Johansson taking Kuznetsov’s place on the top power play unit. Strome also moved from the bumper position to the half wall, a position he worked at during training camp. Defenseman Erik Gustafsson, after taking Alex Ovechkin’s spot on a power play shift with the second unit Wednesday against Boston, reprised that role Saturday as well.

“We need to generate,” Laviolette said in his press conference Saturday morning. “In certain areas, we’re doing enough to shoot ourselves in the foot and sometimes you cover that by scoring more goals than the opposition and we haven’t been able to that. So, we’re trying to fix the things that have been hurting us a little bit, see if we can’t take down the goals against a little bit, but we need to create more as well — five-on-five, power play. It’s early in the season and we’re just looking for changes as a starting point and if you’ve been there for a little bit and it hasn’t worked, hasn’t produced, let’s take a look at something else and see if that works.”

Not only has the power play gone 0-for-9 thus far between the two units, but the Capitals’ top two lines have accounted for just one goal between the first two games. While the offense that the bottom has provided thus far has been a pleasant development, Washington isn’t going to get very far when Ovechkin and Kuznetsov — its top two goal scorers last year — aren’t finding the back of the net.

To get them going, Laviolette broke up that pair despite them spending most of the 2021-22 campaign skating together. He told both power play units that whichever one scores first will be the group that gets first crack at doing so again the next opportunity.

“There’s urgency to win,” Laviolette said. “That’s what we’re here to do. We’re not here to play the game. We’re here to win the game. So when the first two games don’t go the way you want, yeah, the urgency cranks up. This team has been a successful team in the regular season for a lot of years, so the standard right now is unacceptable. And I believe you can change it. In one game, you can change what your expectation is for tonight. So there should be some more urgency. We’re 0-2 right now.”

Strome, who scored a career-high 11 power-play goals for the Chicago Blackhawks last season, agreed with Laviolette’s assertion that the Capitals needed to generate more scoring opportunities on special teams.

“Just some more shots, some more chances,” Strome said. “I think we had a couple good looks [against Toronto], obviously Ovi went off the crossbar there. That goes in, it’s a different game. So we’ve had our looks, but I think we got to just get a few more shots, create a little more traffic and I think, like I said, a few inches away from two or three goals the last couple games so it’s only two games and just got to capitalize.”

Laviolette attributed the Capitals’ struggles on defense to “system breakdowns,” faulting their forwards for turning the puck over and putting their defensemen in bad positions on odd-man rushes. As a result, he didn’t touch any of the blue line pairings in practice.

“For me, we’ve got to do a better job of generating more,” Laviolette said. “The defensive pairs have been pretty solid. I do think that we need to play better on defense. Our defensemen can play better, so they don’t get a pass either. There’s just a little bit more history for them.”

Washington will put its new lines to the test against the Montreal Canadiens (1-1-0). Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET.

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