Peaches & Herb have had the world thinking for decades that it feels so good to be reunited. The Washington Capitals can only hope that’s the case on the ice as well.
With the season swirling around the proverbial toilet bowl and the feel of desperation heavy around the Caps, coach Adam Oates is shuffling his forward lines in search of a spark. The biggest move he’s making is to put Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom back together on the top line, hoping they can rekindle their successful partnership from previous seasons.
Yet this isn’t just a case of rewinding the clock. Ovechkin will remain at right wing, where he’s been playing most of this season, instead of returning to his old home at left wing. Matt Hendricks, who seems like he’s played on all four lines at one time or another in 2013, will slide in on the left, at least to start.
It’s fair to say that Ovi is in a full fledged slump. While he had a goal and two assists in the Capitals’ 7-1 thrashing of the Florida Panthers on March 7, pretty much everyone in a red sweater had a good game on that night. The truth is that the captain has points in only five of his last 12 games and has only found the back of the net four times in that stretch — and three of those goals came in the same game. Except for Tuesday night’s loss to Carolina, he’s at least been getting shots on goal for the last few weeks, but it certainly couldn’t hurt to see if someone can get him the puck in slightly different places.
Can it be Backstrom though? While the numbers say he’s having a good season, it feels like he’s having the quietest decent-scoring campaign in recent memory. He had a nice run going in late February and early March where he had points in nine out of 10 games, but he’s been held pointless in his last two, and his goals are coming way too few and far between.
There’s an obvious knock-on effect through the rest of the lines as well. Marcus Johansson will get a crack at centering the second line between Eric Fehr and Troy Brouwer after he did everything but finish against the Hurricanes. His moments of brilliance suggest that it’s worth giving him a shot, though Johansson has just one assist in 11 games, and the whole situation just makes one remember that the Caps have a great fit for this role if he’d only get healthy. Hint: his name rhymes with “Cooks Mike.”
Meanwhile, the demotion of Ribiero to the third line after he carried the offense for big chunks of the season’s first half might mean that Oates is finally getting fed up with his recent play. Ribeiro has gone pointless for three straight games while taking some dumb penalties, including the soul-crushing double minor that helped hand a game to the New York Islanders last Saturday. It’s worth a try to see if he can get Joel Ward going again, but it also might be a sign that George McPhee would be willing to listen to teams who want him at the trade deadline. And as we’ve said before, with his age and contract situation, Ribeiro is eminently tradeable, no matter how much we’ve all enjoyed his early play.
There’s no question that Oates has to try something or risk letting any shot at the postseason slip away. He’s already tried just about everything else in terms of line combinations, so putting Ovechkin and Backstrom back together can’t hurt. They may not be able to bring back the glory days, but even a reasonable facsimile would be a big help at this point.