Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets: Keys to the Game

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It’s been a busy week for the Washington Capitals – they earned their first regulation win of the season, were shut out again by Henrik Lundqvist, and underwent major line changes.

Adam Oates has finally changed up his lines, with Martin Erat making the jump from the fourth line to the second. Brooks Laich has made the move to second-line center, while Mikhail Grabovski has moved to the third line. Tom Wilson isn’t heading back to Plymouth, meaning he will be a Capital this season and battling Eric Fehr for the fourth line’s right wing slot.

And to cap the day’s events off, the defense has been switched up. Karl Alzner and John Carlson constitute one pairing, while Mike Green and Nate Schmidt comprise the second. John Erskine has been playing with Alex Urbom and Steve Oleksy.

Needless to say, Saturday night’s match with the struggling Columbus Blue Jackets will be quite the experiment. Columbus is looking to break their three-game losing streak and sit at fifth place in the Metropolitan Division, one place above the Capitals. While the Jackets and Caps both have earned four points, the upcoming contest will be their seventh and eighth of the season, respectively.

The Caps’ woes remain the same: they’re lacking good goaltending, a solid defense, and even-strength scoring. The power play could potentially be an issue, as the Rangers killed off the Capitals’ three penalties Wednesday night.

Washington faces a competitive goaltender in Sergei Bobrovsky, who is currently ranked twenty-first in terms of save percentage. Posting a respectable .921 save percentage and 2.49 GAA, the Caps may have their work cut out for them. However, if Alex Ovechkin continues his shooting frenzy and Erat fits in nicely with Laich and Troy Brouwer, the Caps should be able to create scoring chances and hopefully break through the Jackets’ defense.

While Oates’s faith in his previous lines is commendable, his real success is in realizing that lineups past simply weren’t effective (enough). By shaking things up, he’s demonstrating good judgment as a coach. Moving players around doesn’t signify failures; if anything, Oates has learned what works for the team and what doesn’t. That’s a positive step, and let’s be realistic: experimentation is inevitable.

It should be noted that Columbus plays a very different style of hockey from the Caps, and that the teams didn’t meet last season. Oates doesn’t have the luxury of analyzing previous matchups and therefore must prepare his troops to venture into the unknown.

Yet, he can’t anticipate everything. The absence of Matt Calvert could shake up Columbus’s offense – but then again, Washington will be in the same boat. Can Grabovski adjust to the third line? How will Fehr complement his new linemates – assuming Wilson doesn’t take his place?

These questions, and more, will be answered gradually, beginning Saturday night. After all, a trial period is necessary – but the Caps are running out of time. There’s only so many times you can makeover a team, especially over the course of a single season. Old habits die hard, and while this division rival clash could offer a glimpse into the Capitals’ future, only time will tell if the team can adapt and succeed.

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Tags: NHL Washington Capitals

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