Oates likes Ovechkin with grinders

Oates likes Ovechkin with grinders
January 28, 2013, 11:45 am
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Updated 1:30 p.m.

Maybe Adam Oates sees Alex Ovechkin differently than Ovechkin sees himself.

Maybe he sees Ovechkin as a net-crashing, bull-in-a-china-shop power forward who needs to rediscover what it’s like to score dirty goals.

And maybe that’s why Oates went back to a line of Ovechkin with Jay Beagle and Joey Crabb at Monday’s practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

“I like having north-south guys with him,” Oates said. “Maybe sometimes other [linemates] might try to get too creative … as opposed to being more relentless going north. I think playing with Joey and Beags, they’re going to go north more.”

While Oates’ rationale has merit, it likely will draw some second-guessing, especially by the hockey-crazed media in Ottawa and Toronto, where the Caps play their next two games.

After all, Beagle and Crabb will never be mistaken for Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer, who played with Ovechkin much of last season and were reunited in the second period of Sunday’s 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres.

Beagle and Crabb have spent much of their careers on the fringes of NHL rosters. Last season, in his first full year in the NHL, Beagle had four goals for the Caps. Crabb had 11 for the Maple Leafs.

“I obviously want to keep playing with him because he’s a great player,” Beagle said of Ovechkin. “I’m finding that me, Crabber and him are communicating pretty well out there and getting to know each other.

“Me and Crabber are hard-working, grinder kind of players. He’s got a lot more skills than us, obviously, but he kind of plays that similar style. He hits and crashes and bangs and he works the wall well. He can really grind it out down low and no one can move him off the puck. I think it works.”

Through five games Ovechkin now has had seven different linemates – Backstrom, Brouwer, Marcus, Johansson, Wojtek Wolski, Matt Hendricks, Beagle and Crabb. In those five games Ovechkin has one power-play goal on 18 shots and is still looking for his first even-strength goal.

Brouwer said he wasn’t entirely surprised to see Ovechkin back with Beagle and Crabb, saying he thought his line with Backstrom and Wolski played well in New Jersey Friday night and again on Sunday.

“As [Sunday’s] game went on we had some shifts with Ovi,” Brouwer said. “He was playing hard [Sunday], dumping pucks and doing the right things. He still has to limit those turnovers at the [offensive] blue line, but he was doing the right things.”

Backstrom, who has two assists and is a minus-2 in five games, said he’s not happy with his play.

“Me personally, I can be better at pretty much everything.”

Here are the line combos used by Oates at Monday’s practice, in preparation for Tuesday’s night’s visit to Ottawa against the 3-1-1 Senators [7:30 p.m., CSN]:

  • Alex Ovechkin – Jay Beagle – Joey Crabb
  • Wojtek Wolski – Nicklas Backstrom – Troy Brouwer
  • Jason Chimera – Mike Ribeiro – Joel Ward
  • Matt Hendricks – Mathieu Perreault/Marcus Johansson – Eric Fehr

 Defense pairings:

  • Karl Alzner – Mike Green
  • John Erskine – John Carlson
  • Jeff Schultz – Tomas Kundratek
  • Roman Hamrlik – Tom Poti

Oates said Michal Neuvirth [1-1-1, 2.92 GAA] will get the start in Ottawa. Against the Senators, Neuvirth has a career mark of 4-0-0 with a 1.55 GAA and .945 save percentage.