Capitals roll out new-look lineup in tight win over Blue Jackets

Caps roll out new-look lineup in tight win over Blue Jackets originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

WASHINGTON — The Capitals reintroduced Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson to the lineup Sunday, shaking up their lines as they battled the Columbus Blue Jackets for a 1-0 win at Capital One Arena.

After both players missed the first three months of the season rehabbing from their respective offseason surgeries, the Capitals made several changes to their lines to accommodate their returning stars. Backstrom joined Alex Ovechkin and Conor Sheary on the top line while Wilson skated with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dylan Strome on the second.

Their forward lines:

Ovechkin-Backstrom-Sheary

Strome-Kuznetsov-Wilson

Milano-Eller-Oshie

Johansson-Dowd-Hathaway

Backstrom’s return pushed Strome to the wing after he played center in all of his first 42 games to begin the season. With Wilson playing right wing on the second, he created a domino effect that shifted Marcus Johansson to a fourth-line role. Head coach Peter Laviolette did mix things up throughout the game, however, trying out different combinations. Backstrom and Wilson each took power-play shifts with the former on the first unit.

Though they finished the game with 14:03 and 14:10 of ice time, respectively, neither Backstrom nor Wilson recorded a point in the game. Washington’s lone goal of the evening was scored by Erik Gustafsson, who fired a shot from the left circle less than three minutes in to give the home team an early lead.

Engineering his NHL-best fourth shutout of the season, Darcy Kuemper started his second consecutive game against Columbus and stopped all 37 shots he faced. The Blue Jackets made several strong bids for first-period goals that he turned away and they never managed to break through from there, either. He clinched the win by fending off 90 seconds of 6-on-5 play with Columbus netminder Elvis Merzlikins pulled.

The returns of their star players forced Laviolette to sit two forwards and he opted to scratch Anthony Mantha and Nicolas Aube-Kubel. It marked the first time Mantha had been scratched since he was acquired in a deadline deal with the Detroit Red Wings two years ago.

“These are obviously tough decisions,” Laviolette said before the game. “There’s 14 forwards now with [Aliaksei] Protas and [Joe] Snively not being here and 14 NHL players that have helped our team be successful. Two of those players are now available coming off of injury and it just made for tough decisions. I have no problem if either one of those guys were in the lineup today, Kubel or Mantha, but they’re not. I had to make decisions, and that’s where I started.”

With the win, the Capitals improved to 23-14-6 with 52 points toward the standings. They turn their attention to the Philadelphia Flyers, facing their Metropolitan Division rivals in each of their next two games Wednesday and Saturday.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Sports Washington. Sign up for NBC Sports Washington’s free email subscription today.

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