Line shuffle gets Caps to Game 6
Overshadowed in what appeared to be a demotion for captain Alex Ovechkin was the corresponding move. As Capitals coach Barry Trotz shifted Ovechkin to a third line before Washington’s Game 5 against Pittsburgh, Andre Burakovsky was bumped up the lineup to play alongside centre Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie.
On the surface, Burakovsky had done little to earn such a promotion, with just two assists in the 10 playoff games entering Saturday night. But Burakovsky had constantly looked on the precipice of scoring, arguably having the best chances of any Capitals forward without getting rewarded. With the old forward combinations growing stale, Trotz figured Burakovsky’s speed would complement Backstrom and Oshie well while Ovechkin’s presence on a third line would create a trickier matchup for the Penguins.
At least for one night, it worked, and Burakovsky’s strong play on a top line is an encouraging sign it could work again in Game 6 on Monday night. He’s the Capitals’ streakiest goal scorer, and his success with Backstrom and Oshie could allow the team to roll three scoring lines against Pittsburgh, something Washington was unable to do at the start of this series.
On one shift back beside third-line centre Lars Eller, Burakovsky was able to finally capitalize on one of his chances, scoring Washington’s first goal of the game. In the third period, Burakovsky set up Backstrom’s game-tying goal en route to the 4-2 Capitals win. He’s just the fourth forward to score a goal for the team in this series.
“I’ve been creating a lot of chances so it was nice to finally get one,” Burakovsky said. “I’ve been working hard to help the team and to produce. I’m a player that should produce and I haven’t done that this series. So it was nice to get a goal today and an assist for Nicky. Now we’re just going to take it from here.”
With Washington scoring four goals on Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury for the first time all series, it seems likely that Trotz will stick with the line combinations he debuted on Saturday night. Ovechkin struggled through the first 40 minutes of the game with new linemates, recording just two shots on goal in two periods — and both came during a power play in the first period. But just 27 seconds after Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the game-winning goal, Ovechkin provided insurance with his second goal of the series.
“Be honest with you, for us I don’t think it matter who going to play with [who] and who going to play against each other,” Ovechkin said. “Right now it’s not a good time to talk about, ‘well, I’m going to play less or I’m going to play more.’ We’re here to get result and we’re here to get successful as a team, not individual. That’s a big part of our success.”
While a third line of Burakovsky, Eller and winger Tom Wilson had been playing well in this series, the zone time and shot attempts the three were generating weren’t translating into goal production. Despite emphasizing secondary scoring in off-season moves, Washington didn’t have a single goal from the bottom six in this series before Game 5. Burakovsky’s goal in the first period and Ovechkin’s goal in the third now count as two.
But first, Trotz had to sell the adjustment to Ovechkin.
“I talked to him, just saying that we need to change it up,” Trotz said. “Top players make people better, and I said, you know, it’s no different than [Phil] Kessel being on [Pittsburgh’s] third line last year. That had a lot of impact for the Penguins.”
Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby dives on the puck with Matt Niskanen and Pittsburgh Penguins’ Jake Guentzel closing in during the third period of Game 5.