The Washington Capitals' early-season woes at even strength have been well-documented, woes that can be taken to a more micro level.
In the case of the Capitals' second line, much was expected of the trio of Brooks Laich, Mikhail Grabovski and Troy Brouwer entering the season. Laich was returning from a lost, injury-ridden season; Grabovski, provided with a change of scenery and a fresh start, was hailed as more than just another second-line center stopgap; and coach Adam Oates singled out Brouwer, on pace for a career year over a full season in 2012-13, when asked which player he believed was poised for a breakout season.
Much like the rest of Washington's lineup -- and keeping in mind that it has only been three games -- the second line has yet to produce as a unit. Grabovski has accounted for all five points among the three, four of which have come on the power play. In fact, when Grabovski scored his lone even-strength goal during the second period of last Tuesday's 6-4 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, neither Laich nor Brouwer were on the ice.
"I thought we've been good, except for we need to score goals," Brouwer said. "If we're going to be a second line, we have to score goals. Otherwise, we're going to get broken up and somebody else can get the opportunity to do it."
Though to a lesser extent than the first line, the second line's performance is judged by offensive production, and solely based on statistics, the Capitals' second line is struggling. Otherwise, Laich, Grabovski and Brouwer believe that they are slowly, but surely coming together as an effective unit.
"I think it's still a work in progress," Laich said after Tuesday's practice. "We've had some chances, we've had spurts at times, but it hasn't been a consistent, every-shift threat yet, which is I think something that we can get to. But that's going to take some time to develop. ... We're working on it in practice and trying to talk as much as we can and communicate and figure out what each player wants. I think when we get it down, we can be a consistent threat every shift."
To be fair, with Laich nursing a sore left hip flexor during training camp and Grabovski having his arrival delayed by visa issues, the second line had little time to acclimate themselves to each other's tendencies during training camp. They also played only one preseason game together before being thrust into meaningful game action.
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That acclimation process is still ongoing. Laich and Grabovski routinely confer about X's and O's, whether it be at their locker room stalls after practice with a Gatorade bottle serving as a makeshift goal or on the team charter. As Laich put it Tuesday, it is not something that they have to do, but something that they want to do in order to further familarize themselves with how they collectively want to approach the game.
"We always teach each other," Grabovski said. "If [Laich] can tell me something, it help me a lot because he has big experience than me. If I have something to say, I say always because I have little bit of experience too. We help each other. Our key just time and keep it simple, just work together."
"We haven't really been hemmed in our zone or been trapped defensively, which is always a plus," Laich said. "Now it just comes with producing and now that's the next step -- not just playing well, but producing.
"All three of us expect to produce. We don't hope to. We expect to."
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