Having lost his first two games behind the Capitals’ bench, Adam Oates is going to switch things up tonight against the Montreal Canadiens when he replaces Marcus Johansson with Wojtek on the top line, and promotes Matt Hendricks to the second line.
Wojtek will play on the left side of center Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, who will remain on the right side. And Hendricks will play left wing on a line with center Mike Ribeiro and right wing Troy Brouwer.
Johansson drops to a fourth line with center Mathieu Perreault and Joey Crabb.
“He showed a little spark, a little something,” Oates said of Wolski, who scored a goal in the Caps’ season opener in Tampa. “I thought when I put him up there, there was a little chemistry. We’ll see how they look tonight.”
Oates seems intent on keeping Ovechkin, who shoots right, on the right side of the ice. Through two games Ovechkin leads all Caps forward in ice time [23:47] and shots , but is still seeking his first goal. In his first two games under Oates he’s been guilty of drifting to the left side of the ice, leaving the right side without a winger.
“When you play all the time on the left side and you try the right side you have to realize it takes time,” Ovechkin said. “If I score one goal or two goals I’m going to feel much more comfortable. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a goal or assist or a hit, it’s about feeling more comfortable.”
Ovechkin has seen his shot totals drop dramatically in the past three years and his goal totals have dropped from a career-high 65 in 2007-08 to a career-low 32 two seasons ago and 38 last season.
“Of course I want to be back in the days when I scored 65 goals,” he said. “But it is what it is right now. I’m going to do what my coach tells me.”
Oates has emphasized the need for his players to get into game shape and he acknowledged Thursday that was a big reason for promoting Hendricks to the second line. Hendricks scored a goal and got into two fights in Tuesday night’s 4-2 loss to the Jets.
As for Johansson, Oates said he spent extra time with the 22-year-old forward in the film room on Wednesday.
“He’s a young kid; he’ still learning the game,” Oates said. “He’s a natural center and we’ve got him on wing and I’m sure some of his reads and decisions are based on that.”
Oates said he’s also anxious to see how Michal Neuvirth fares in his first start of the season. Neuvirth has a career mark of 4-1-0 against the Canadiens with a 1.82 GAA and .939 save percentage.
“I feel cold, but you know this is the job I picked and I gotta handle it,” Neuvirth said. “I’m trying to stay positive and happy. I felt good during the practice [Wednesday] and I’m ready to go.”
Loose pucks: Don’t be surprised if you hear a few boos when Montreal’s Rene Bourque [No. 17] touches the puck tonight. On Jan. 3 of last year he threw a blatant elbow to the head of Backstrom, knocking him out of the next 40 games with a concussion. … Tonight will also mark the first game against former Rangers pest Brandon Prust since Game 7 of lat year’s second-round playoff loss. … It’s been seven years since Ribeiro last played for the Canadiens, but the Montreal native said there are few teams he enjoys playing against more than the Habs. Defenseman Andrei Markov and center Tomas Plekanec are the only two former teammates left from that 2005-06 team. … Forward Eric Fehr and defensemen Jeff Schultz and John Erskine are expected to be healthy scratches for the Caps tonight.