Peter Laviolette thought his new lines worked against the Penguins

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Andrew Gillis
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Peter Laviolette thought his new lines worked against the Penguins originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

In an effort to boost their offense throughout the top nine, the Capitals mixed up their lines ahead of Tuesday’s game against the Penguins trying to spread out the skill on three lines.

The offensive issues plagued them again, though, as the Capitals dropped a 3-2 overtime game at Capital One Arena on a night when they couldn’t keep up with the speed and skill of the Penguins.

Coach Peter Laviolette moved Lars Eller up to center the line with Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson and moved Nicklas Backstrom to skate with Richard Panik and T.J. Oshie. The second and fourth lines remained the same, but for the Caps, so did the result.

“Again it is a tight game that you play against Pittsburgh so there are some games that I feel like they move up and down the ice,” Laviolette said. “The last game we played I felt it moved up and down the ice both ways easier. The spaces are tougher to come by out here. I thought the lines were working, they were grinding. At the end of the day you know we lost the game in overtime so we will go back and look at things and see where we are at tomorrow.”

From a possession standpoint, the only line above water was the Panik-Backstrom-Oshie line, which posted a Corsi-For percentage of 58.30 percent, according to NaturalStatTrick. No other line held more than 47.4 percent possession. 

All three lines skated relatively equal time on ice at five-on-five, as the Backstrom line skated 11:54, the Eller line skated 11:19 and the line of Jakub Vrana, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Conor Sheary skated 11:16. 

The fourth line of Carl Hagelin, Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway posted the worst possession and shot numbers, but that can be forgiven considering that, of the 16 faceoffs they were on the ice for, 10 came in the defensive end and just one came in the Penguins’ zone. A steady trio throughout the season, that line seems impervious to change for the time being.

Panik and Sheary tallied the Capitals’ only two goals, both of which came in the second period. But a poor start led to a dull third period, as the Capitals once again weren’t able to play with a lead for very long. Or, for that matter, keep the pressure on.

“I think tonight we kind of had a slow start,” Sheary said. “I don't know what it was, maybe heavy legs or something like that. But I think we got going a little bit better in the second and then the third was kind of an even period I thought. I think we obviously will take a point, but we know we have better and we'll bring that on Thursday.”

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The Capitals were out-chanced in every period and outshot in the first two periods (with a 7-6 advantage in the third). In any situation, much less against the Penguins, they know they’ve got to generate more offense at five-on-five. 

“For me it is just the games against Pittsburgh you got to compete at a higher level,” Laviolette said. “You got to compete and from the time the faceoff drops, just trying to win that battle, that possession, gain possession of the puck. We would like to stay in the offensive zone a little bit more than we did tonight.”

They’ll face the Penguins once again Thursday, in another important game in an increasingly tight division. 

Whether the new lines remain won’t be known for two more days, but it’s clear the Capitals need more offensively at even strength. 

“I think you got to gear up and prepare for that, so I thought it got better in the second and the third,” Laviolette said. “The games we played in Pittsburgh, whether we won it or lost it, they were low event games in terms of quality chances. So tonight they got on a little bit more than I would have liked, and so try to flip the script on them Thursday.”

OddsMoney LinePoint SpreadTotal Points
Washington
+125+2.5O 6.5
Boston
-150-2.5U 6.5