Capitals Shuffle Forward Lines, Martin Erat Breaks Into Top Six

To paraphrase the late Owen Hart, enough was apparently enough for Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates, and it was time for a change.

After dropping five of seven to start the season and struggling to score at even strength, the Capitals' forward lines, which had remained mostly intact minus minor alterations to the fourth line, had a different look when practice began in Arlington Friday.

"I just felt that [a] couple guys weren't playing good enough for the minutes they're getting," Oates said. "And they need to know that."

In seven games, the Capitals scored eight even-strength goals. Three were scored while the first line of Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin was on the ice together, all three by Ovechkin. Meanwhile, the second line of Brooks Laich, Mikhail Grabovski and Troy Brouwer combined for one even-strength goal, as did the third line of Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr and Joel Ward. 

While Johansson, Backstrom and Ovechkin remained intact, every other line saw some sort of change, the most notable being Martin Erat finally breaking into the top six after averaging just 8:46 of ice time per game on the fourth line. Erat moving into the second-line left wing position pushed Laich over to his natural position of center.

Grabovski slid down onto the third line, while Eric Fehr was relegated to right-wing duty on the fourth line.

The Capitals certainly appreciated Oates' patience, but had a feeling that change was imminent.

"You know it's going to happen," Brouwer said. "You can't stick with the same lines the entire season, especially when you're not producing. We [the second line] had one game where we scored a couple goals, and other than that, we haven't done a whole lot as a line in the first seven games. Something had to give."

Marcus Johansson - Nicklas Backstrom - Alex Ovechkin

Martin Erat - Brooks Laich - Troy Brouwer

Jason Chimera - Mikhail Grabovski - Joel Ward

Aaron Volpatti  - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson/Eric Fehr

Meanwhile, the defensive pairings all underwent a makeover as Oates reunited Karl Alzner and John Carlson while placing rookie Nate Schmidt with Mike Green. John Erskine, who hopes to return Saturday from a upper-body injury that has cost him three games, and Alexander Urbom worked alongside Steve Oleksy.

The top two pairs will likely start Saturday's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets together, according to Oates.

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