The coming of Christmas didn’t go exactly as planned for the Washington Capitals. They were on a four-game winning streak heading into a Dec. 22 game against the Arizona Coyotes, where they fell 3-2 in overtime. After that, the Capitals would be left scratching their heads, blanked by the Golden Knights 3-0 in their last game before Christmas.
That scoreless drought would carry over into the Capitals’ first game back from the break against New York Rangers Wednesday, where they fell 1-0 in the shootout and found themselves shut out through two consecutive games. The adversity continued for the Capitals in their first game back at Capital One Arena since Dec. 16 Thursday against the Boston Bruins. Washington surrendered two goals in the first three minutes of the game and couldn’t muster up much offense, their play plagued by turnovers. However, a big open-ice hit from Brooks Orpik in the opening frame would change the course of the game, and ignite a spark for the Capitals.
After that, Lars Eller ended Washington’s scoreless drought in the second period, and Alex Ovechkin would tie the game soon after on the team’s first power-play tally since their previous matchup with Boston weeks prior. Ultimately, thanks to a strong showing from Washington’s penalty kill, as well as a game-tying goal from Brett Connolly and an additional goal from Ovechkin in the shootout, the Capitals would prevail, 4-3, with their 12th consecutive victory against the Bruins to snap a three-game losing streak.
“It’s been a little bit of a rough patch here around the holidays,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “Good job by the guys [of] not getting discouraged by some things and just fighting through it.”
According to Ovechkin, it was important for Washington’s special teams to step up to the plate, especially with the team’s woes over the last few games.
“I don’t think we have success in last games,” Ovechkin said. “It doesn’t matter if I score or somebody else score, just to take the pressure off our shoulder.”
Changes to the Lineup
Unable to find a lot of chemistry with the Capitals’ lines of late, head coach Barry Trotz made some changes, hoping the shake-up would result in a goal. Devante Smtih-Pelly is now on the Capitals’ top line alongside Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, replacing Tom Wilson, who is now on the third line with Eller and Connolly.
Against Boston, the third line was one of the most effective units on the ice, and Wilson said that is due to the high energy on that unit, which will remain together Saturday against the New Jersey Devils.
“That’s our identity on our line,” Wilson said. “[Connolly] and Lars and I want to skate, want to create energy.”
Chandler Stephenson, who has been out with illness, will return to the lineup Saturday on the fourth line with Jay Beagle and Alex Chiasson. Andre Burakovsky, who had been on the third line since returning from a thumb injury, will be a healthy scratch. Since returning to play on Dec. 8 against the Rangers, the 22-year-old has just two goals and four points in 10 games and hasn’t registered a point in his last four games.
Trotz explained that the decision to scratch Burakovsky came with his performance over time and that he hopes it will help him get back in sync and improve his performance.
“I think with every player you hope that,” Trotz told the Washington Post. “All the details, all the consistency, you shouldn’t go 20 games without a point or a goal or whatever. There’s times when we played him and he probably shouldn’t be in the lineup. So I think we’re past that a little bit. We’ve got to force him to get to the next level, and sometimes it’s a little bit of tough love, sometimes it’s getting the player to realize how much being on the ice means to him. There’s no entitlement. He’s a veteran player now. He’s a young veteran player that we expect to be real good.”
Here are the lines for the Capitals matchup against New Jersey:
Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Devante Smtih-Pelly
Jakub Vrana-Evgeny Kuznetsov-T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly-Lars Eller-Tom Wilson
Chandler Stephenson-Jay Beagle-Alex Chiasson
Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Christian Djoos-John Carlson
Brooks Orpik-Taylor Chorney
Madison Bowey, who registered an assist against the Bruins Thursday, will also sit out Saturday; Taylor Chorney, who has played just one game since Nov. 25, will draw back into the lineup.
Sometimes you just need a shake-up,” Eller said following Thursday’s win.
Saturday marks an important matchup for Washington, considering they could take the Metropolitan Division lead from New Jersey with a victory. The Devils hold the division lead by just one point. Braden Holtby will start between the pipes for the Capitals.
Sammi Silber covers the Capitals beat for The Hockey Writers and is an NHL contributor with Sporting News. She has also contributed to USA TODAY College, Huffington Post, FanSided and the Nation Network. Silber has written four books and recently worked on graphics for the film, The California Golden Seals Movie.