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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.:

Johansson-Backstrom-Oshie

Ovechkin-Kuznetsov-Wilson

Connolly-Eller-Williams

Winnik-Beagle-Vrana

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.

RELATED: CAPS STILL FACE QUESTIONS ABOUT LAST YEAR

“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.

MORE CAPITALS: Q&A - ARE THE CAPITALS REPEATING THEMSELVES?

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Barry Trotz explains why he believes this year's Capitals team is different

Barry Trotz explains why he believes this year's Capitals team is different

If you walked away from Washington’s Game 1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins thinking to yourself, “same ol’ Caps, same ol’ story,” it’s not hard to understand why. This team has not made it past the second round of the playoffs since 1998 and have beaten the rival Penguins only once in nine postseason meetings.
 
Last year’s dream season in which the Capitals were virtually uncontested through the entire season as the top team in the NHL was brought to an abrupt end in the second round at the hands of the Penguins in six games. After another Presidents’ Trophy winning season, seeing the Caps lose Game 1 to Pittsburgh at home has already left many fans feeling despondent.
 
But that’s not how the Caps feel.
 
“We're in a different place,” head coach Barry Trotz said after Friday’s practice when comparing this team to last year’s. “I think we feel that we still can build on our game.”
 
In many ways, the Capitals were actually the better team in Game 1. Washington held a large advantage in terms of shot attempts (72-32) and scoring chances (41-15) and still walked away with the loss. And yet, despite dominating on paper, Trotz still felt his team had more to give.
 
“I think last year, we came at them real hard and go, what else can we do?” Trotz said. “I don't have that feeling this year. I know we can do more, we know we can do more. That's a great thing to have is we know we can be better, we know we can do more.”
 
“I could lie to you and say that, but I’m not,” Trotz added as he stressed to the media that his confident rhetoric was not simply coach-speak.
 
Despite what happened on paper, the game appeared to be very even as it played out. The big difference seemed to be that every mistake the Caps made ended up in the back of their net.
 
Trotz’s confidence was likely not simply a brave face to wear before the media, but necessary for his players as well. If there was a feeling from last season of “What more can we do?” it would be hard to shake that feeling considering the picture the numbers paint of a dominant Caps’ performance in Game 1. The fact is, if they continue playing the way they did, they will come out on the winning end more often than not. The difference will be cleaning up those mistakes that a championship caliber teams like Pittsburgh always take advantage of.
 
All three of the goals Washington gave up in Game 1 were preventable. The first came when Matt Niskanen pinched too far into the neutral zone off the opening faceoff in the second period. A turnover led to a 2-on-1 in the wrong direction. Pittsburgh’s second goal was the result of Braden Holtby getting a glove on a slap shot from Olli Maatta but not holding onto it, leading to a rebound opportunity that Sidney Crosby finished. The third came with Brooks Orpik high in the neutral zone. A stretch pass left the defense exposed and Kevin Shattenkirk went after Scott Wilson as opposed to staying more center to account for the trailing Orpik and a wide-open Nick Bonino.
 
In terms of overall play, there’s not much more you can do if you dominate the defending Cup champs. What they can do, however, is cut out those mistakes, prevent those preventable goals and not dwell on them as they go forward in the series.
 
“I think we've learned to go forward, I think we've learned to park things and that's what the change is, that's where we wanted to get to,” Trotz said. “I don't know if we're fully there or not, but we're going in that right direction so I'm excited about the rest of the series for sure.”

MORE CAPITALS: Holtby's history suggests he'll bounce back in Game 2

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Braden Holtby's history suggests he'll bounce back in Game 2

Braden Holtby's history suggests he'll bounce back in Game 2

Caps Coach Barry Trotz says he’s confident Braden Holtby will rebound from a Game 1 performance that the goalie found to be lacking.

“I thought he was fine but he didn’t think he played as good as he could,” Trotz said. “But I do know this—and I’ve told you this—he is a guy that responds.”

On Friday morning, Holtby was among the first players on the ice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex—and he quickly got to work with goalie coach Mitch Korn.

In Thursday’s 3-2 loss to the Penguins, Holtby allowed three goals on 21 shots, including a pair on the first seven shots he faced.

RELATED: Caps-Penguins rivalry tests Shattenkirk-Bonino friendship

Why is Trotz so confident that Holtby will rebound? Because history says he will.

Holtby has generally responded with a strong individual performance after losses in the playoffs. In fact, he’s posted a .933 save percentage, 1.92 goals against and two shutouts in postseason games following a loss.  

“He’s going to be better tomorrow, and that’s good for us,” Trotz said.

Holtby’s Game 1 performance comes on the heels of an uneven first round for the reigning Vezina Trophy winner. Against Toronto, he yielded 14 goals in the first four games before locking down the Leafs in Games 5 and 6, stopping 61 of 63 shots to lead the Caps to the second round.

On Thursday night, Holtby got off to a strong start, turning back an early blitz by the Pens, including a point blank pad stop on Patric Hornqvist to keep the game scoreless. Holtby also made a critical breakaway stop on Phil Kessel–and the ensuing rebound attempt by Bryan Rust—as the Caps scrambled just after falling behind 2-0.

Overall, though, Holtby felt he could have been sharper. In particular, he said he did not like Sidney Crosby’s first goal or his execution on Nick Bonino’s third period shot that slipped between his blocker and side.

After the game, Holtby vowed that both he and the Caps would be ready for Game 2 on Saturday night.

“I don’t think we’re frustrated,” Holtby said. “We realize that we played a really strong game. I know I need to be better if we’re going to have success, and that’s basically the bottom line.”

MORE CAPITALS: Caps not pleased with officiating in Game 1