When the Washington Capitals took the ice to start the second period against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday, their top two lines had a slightly different look. Coach Adam Oates swapped left wings Eric Fehr and Brooks Laich, putting the former on a line with Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer and the latter with Mikhail Grabovski and Alex Ovechkin.
Oates explained his reasoning behind the move after his team's 2-1 shootout loss.
"They've been together a long time, that team," Oates said of the Sharks. "[Sharks coach Todd McLellan] really changes up [Patrick] Marleau, [Joe] Thornton, [Brent] Burns and [Joe] Pavelski a lot in different combinations. I thought Brooksie on the left side with Grabo and Ovi would give us a little bit more speed with that line, try to match them a little bit different."
The shift seemed to have a positive effect on the Capitals, who flatlined midway through the first period, failing to register a shot on goal for over 10 minutes after a strong start against the best first-period team in the NHL. San Jose entered the game as one of the League's best possession teams, and Washington, one of the worst, was able to keep pace over the final 40 minutes as depicted below.
In Laich's case, moving him to the "first" line with Ovechkin may have also been an attempt to get Ovechkin going. At left wing, the right-handed Fehr is the lone Capital in the lineup playing on his off hand. By having Laich on the opposite side, it theoretically makes it easier for him to make a cross-ice pass to Ovechkin simply because he is on his forehand, not unlike this chance on Tuesday with Ovechkin setting up Laich.
It is unknown at this point whether or not Oates will elect to deploy these reconfigured lines again on Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but for a team struggling to find offense with two goals in its last two games, it surely could not hurt.
"Our line had a couple good chances," said Laich, who along with his top-six linemates combined for 16 shots on goal, 13 of which came after the first period. "I can speak for our line. Maybe [Oates is] just looking for...I mean we haven’t scored a lot of goals the last couple games, looking for [a] spark. Still want to score more...but for myself I thought my game was good playing with those two. Grabo and Ovi are very creative players so hopefully we can create more offense."
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