With Mikhail Grabovski hobbled by a left ankle injury suffered on Friday against the New Jersey Devils, Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates had no choice but to reconfigure his line combinations without one of the team's top playmakers at his disposal.
Forwards Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson will never be confused for offensive catalysts, but Oates trusted the industrious duo to utilize their straightforward approach in an increased role. Along with Jason Chimera, Beagle and Wilson did just that; the new-look third line combined for two of the Capitals' six goals this past weekend as Washington snapped its seven-game losing streak.
“You want to be able to put them out there at all situations,” Oates said of Beagle and Wilson. “Playing with Chimmer, all of a sudden you’ve got three fast guys that are big and strong that if they can continue to protect the puck in the right spots they’ll be a very dominant line.”
Beagle and Wilson have spent the majority of their time together at even strength; Beagle has played 59.3 percent of his shifts with Wilson, while Wilson has shared 43.7 percent of his even-strength ice time with Beagle. Yet with both men normally playing on the fourth line and averaging less than 10 minutes of ice time per game, they have had to maximize whatever time they can find to develop chemistry and sharpen the finer details of their game, particularly when it comes to breaking out of the defensive zone.
According to Wilson, Beagle has adjusted his approach to complement the 19-year-old rookie. When the two began playing together, Beagle's explosive first-strides left Wilson with little time to survey his surroundings before sending a pass in his direction, which usually ended up behind Beagle and forced the entire line to regroup.
Now, Beagle has slowed down as he prepares to exit the zone, allowing Wilson to find him in stride.
"It's huge on his part, Wilson said. "He's been so good at altering his game in the [defensive] zone for me. It's a really good thing when you're a winger and you know that your centerman's going to be there for you on the walls and on the breakouts. He's always in the right spot and when I get that puck, I don't have to worry about where he is. He's right there and he's been so good at being in the right spot for me that it's made my job really easy and I think we're really figuring out how to play together a little more.
"When we skate so fast and play so hard, it's a little bit difficult to build chemistry just because everything's happening so fast, but we're definitely starting to click a little bit and hopefully we can keep it going."
Beagle and Wilson's chemistry is reflected in their possession numbers; when they are together, they see 50.4 percent of shots headed towards the opposition's net as opposed to 44.8 percent when Wilson is separated from Beagle.
It is likely that Chimera, Beagle and Wilson will skate together again when the Capitals face the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday, which provides them with another opportunity to take advantage of.
"Every time you get a chance to play a bigger role and get bumped up a line, you've got to make the most of it," Beagle said. "I think our chemistry over the last two weeks on the ice has really gotten a lot better. ... You know what he's going to do almost before he does it. He's been doing a great job. It's been really fun to play with him."
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