The Washington Capitals haven’t been happy with their play in the first half of the season. Now, they may shuffle around some of their best players to generate some offense in order to regain first place in the crowded Southeast Division.
The Capitals continue a rough stretch against division foes when they host the last-place Florida Panthers in the opener of a home-and-home set on Saturday night.
Washington (23-12-6) has won three consecutive division titles, claiming last season’s by 38 points to also win its first Presidents’ Trophy. Cruising to another crown doesn’t appear likely again with the Capitals in second place at their halfway mark of 2010-11, one point behind Tampa Bay and just two in front of third-place Atlanta.
It’s the first time Washington hasn’t led the Southeast after 41 games since 2007-08.
To try and get back atop the division, coach Bruce Boudreau is expected to shuffle his lines after a 1-0 overtime loss to the Lightning on Tuesday. Washington has failed to score more than three goals in 13 of its last 15 games (5-6-4), a stretch that started with a 3-0 home loss to Florida on Dec. 9.
The biggest switch by Boudreau could be moving Alex Ovechkin(notes) to right wing on a line with Brooks Laich(notes) and rookie center Marcus Johansson(notes). That would leave Nicklas Backstrom(notes) - normally Ovechkin’s linemate - centering a line with Alexander Semin(notes) and Mike Knuble(notes).
“I don’t know. Him and Nicky are both in slumps, so I’m trying to get them away from each other,” Boudreau said.
Ovechkin has 14 goals after scoring at least 46 in each of his first five NHL seasons. The two-time Hart Trophy winner has just two goals in the last 12 games, and is unsure if switching positions will help.
“It’s not more space, it’s just a different side of the ice,” Ovechkin said. “It’s the same. When you shoot the puck, if it goes in it goes in. If not, … you didn’t score. Shoot the puck is the key.”
Backstrom and Semin are on goal droughts of 15 and 13 games, respectively. It’s the longest in a single season for Backstrom since a career-high 20-game run from Jan. 19-March 1, 2008, while Semin hasn’t had such a stretch since Jan. 11-Feb. 25, 2004.
“When you haven’t been scoring in awhile, you’re squeezing the stick a little bit more and that’s the problem,” said Backstrom, who has 11 goals and 26 assists.
The Capitals’ power-play unit has converted 4 of 50 chances (8.0 percent) over the last 12 games after a 23.8 percent success rate in first 29.
Re-establishing their success against the Panthers could help. The Capitals outscored them 33-15 while sweeping all six meetings in 2009-10 before Tomas Vokoun(notes) made 36 saves in Florida’s shutout win last month.
The Panthers (18-19-2) look to avoid their third straight loss after squandering a two-goal, second-period lead in a 5-3 defeat to Carolina on Friday.
Vokoun should be back in net despite losing the last two games while allowing seven goals on 49 shots. He was pulled in Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to Atlanta.
Over nine career starts in Washington, Vokoun has a 2.22 goals-against average, but is 4-5-0.
The Panthers and Capitals meet again Tuesday in Florida.