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With the Caps scuffling, Coach Barry Trotz shook things up Friday

With the Caps scuffling, Coach Barry Trotz shook things up Friday

With his team mired in an offensive funk, Barry Trotz did something he’s avoided for months: the Capitals’ head coach changed up his forward lines.

Here’s how the combinations looked during practice on Friday in El Segundo, Calif.:





The highlights included Alex Ovechkin being dropped from the first line to the second, Wilson being promoted from the fourth line to the second and Williams moving from the second line to the third.

Why the drastic changes? Well, the NHL-best Caps have scored just 22 goals since returning from the bye week 10 games ago (2.2 goals per game). In the 10 games prior to that five-day hiatus, T.J. Oshie and Co. scored 43 goals (4.3 per).

Overall, Washington has lost two games in a row and is just 5-4-1 since the bye.

Trotz told reporters that he hopes the moves stir some “interest” amongst the forwards.


“I think we’ve gone a little stale,” Trotz said. “Sometimes a little change [and] you’ll get a little spark. Sometimes you get a new linemate or a couple of new linemates, so there’s a little more communication. You're working through stuff rather than just going through it. So, hopefully, that will spark a little bit of interest and production.”

Although he didn’t single out anyone, a quick glance at the game logs reveal the players Trotz is attempting to jumpstart. Ovechkin has no goals in the last eight games and just one in the last 12. Justin Williams has no goals in the last six games and just one in the last 13 games. Meantime, Lars Eller has just one point in the last eight games, while Evgeny Kuznetsov has one in the last four.

On Saturday, Washington faces Los Angeles at Staples Center. The Kings are clinging to their playoff lives while the Caps will be looking to avoid losing three straight games in regulation for the first time since Feb. 2015.

Will the new lines do the trick? It’s worked in the past, Trotz noted.

“What I’ve learned with this group is we move them around and they sort of find their way a little bit,” he said. “And then you can always go back to the old reliable lines, and at some point, we’ll probably do that. But right now we need a little spark and a little interest and a little more production 5-on-5.”   

The defense pairs were unchanged.


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Shootout practice pays off for Caps on Thursday night

Shootout practice pays off for Caps on Thursday night

On Monday, Capitals Coach Barry Trotz dedicated a portion of practice to working on the shootout.


A couple of reasons: The Caps haven’t been good at them this season and that extra point might just come in handy given how tight the standings have become.

On Thursday night, that extra work paid off in a pivotal 2-1 shootout win over the visiting Blue Jackets.

RELATED: Caps put distance between them and divisional foes

With the win, the Caps improved to 2-5 in games decided by the skills competition. More important, though, it helped Washington grow its lead over Pittsburgh and Columbus to two and three standings points, respectively, with nine games left to play.

“Winning in a shootout, which we have not been good at all year, Holts was the guy,” Trotz said, referring to Braden Holtby, who had not won a shootout in five tries. “That was great. That extra point might be huuuge. It might be absolutely huge.”

Of the practice, Trotz said: “It’s paying dividends. We’re working on parts of our game that we need to make sure that we are good at.”

The Caps’ leading scorer and penalty shot specialist, T.J. Oshie, scored the only goal in the shootout. In the 2014 Sochi Games, Oshie beat Bobrovsky four times in penalty shots to lift the United States over Russia. Three times he went 5-hole.

“I thought about it for five seconds, maybe,” Oshie said Thursday night. “I was going to come in and do something different from what I remembered. I saw something different and decided to go 5-hole.”

Oshie added: “I felt pretty fortunate, and luckily that’s the only one we needed because Holts shut the door on the other end.”

Holtby, meantime, made saves on both of the Columbus attempts that were on goal. Another missed the net.

Afterward, the veteran goalie credited the extra work on Monday. In that practice session, Trotz asked Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, Kevin Shattenkirk, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin and Justin Williams to take two shots each on Holtby, who was watched closely by the coaching staff.

“We worked on it a little bit,” Holtby said. “It’s something that I try not to fiddle around with too much because I don’t want it creeping into my regular game because a breakaway is totally different than a shootout. But with the race getting pretty close, [in case we had] another one, we worked on it a couple of days ago in practice to try and get a little better at that for the stretch run.”

And they did get a little better at it. And just at the right time.

MORE CAPITALS: Caps win goalie duel in shootou

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Caps put some distance between them and divisional foes in pivotal win

Caps put some distance between them and divisional foes in pivotal win

While the Caps established themselves as the top team in the NHL, the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins have managed to keep pace with them leading to a three-team race for supremacy of the division. On Thursday, the Caps managed to give themselves a little breathing room.

Washington defeated Columbus 2-1 in a shootout. While it was not the "four-point" game the Caps perhaps had hoped, it still extended their lead over the Blue Jackets by a point.

The Ottawa Senators also did Washington a favor on Thursday by downing the Pittsburgh Penguins. Ironically enough, the score of that game was also 2-1 in a shootout.

RELATED: Caps win goalie duel in shootout

While all three Metropolitan leaders did manage to get points on the night, Washingotn was the only one to get two, meaning they extended their lead over both teams by one. It also means neither Columbus or Pittsburgh registered a regulation or overtime win (ROW). ROW is the first tiebreaker in the standings which could prove critical in such a tight race.

After Thursday's games, here is what the top three of the Metropolitan looks like:

1. Washington: 48-17-8, 104 points, 46 ROW
2. Pittsburgh: 46-17-10, 102 points, 43 ROW
3. Columbus: 47-19-7, 101 points, 45 ROW

With eight games remaining, that's not much breathing room for the Caps. Considering, however, that Washington could have left Thursday tied for second in the division, they certainly will take Thursday's result.

MORE CAPITALS: Capitals are trying to get their game to an elite level