Breaking Down Capitals’ Lineup Decisions & Mindset Behind Strome Scratch
Why are the Washington Capitals scratching zone, and what’s going into the lineup decisions of late? Here’s a closer look at the situation and 14 healthy forwards.
ARLINGTON, V.A. — At a well-attended optional Washington Capitals morning skate prior to Saturday's tilt against the Philadelphia Flyers, Dylan Strome watched the majority of his teammates head off early while he, Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Alex Alexeyev stayed on for extra work, indicating that he will be a healthy scratch for the first time this season against the Philadelphia Flyers.
But why critics are asking, is Strome a healthy scratch when he's the Capitals' third-leading scorer this season?
Well, it's all part of the plan to manage 14 healthy forwards and continue to incorporate Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson back into the mix. All the while, head coach Peter Laviolette is tinkering with the lines and has to make some difficult lineup decisions.
"Just as far as a rhythm going offensively, you know? You gotta move some guys out of position and we're trying things. I think that happens when you're starting something… we've got to slot these guys and find out what's working, what's not working," Laviolette explained on Friday. "It's not so much that the line that somebody's on has to go out and score a goal. For me, it's more about the team and whether or not we're driving the play.
"That's what I'm looking for, whether we win the game or lose the game, I want to see us dictate," he added. "And if it's not working, I don't want to stay with it too long… we've got to find a way to push things a little bit more."
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Strome skated just over 13 minutes and was a minus-1 against the Flyers back on Wednesday. The 25-year-old has gone without a goal in his last five games, and besides picking up three assists against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Jan. 5, he has struggled a bit of late at both ends of the ice. In addition, the power play has gone three straight games without a goal and is 0-for-6 over that span.
So, with Anthony Mantha getting back into the mix following two games as a healthy scratch, Laviolette elected to roll with four centers and put Lars Eller back down the middle, while choosing Strome to slot out. That, of course, has led to the question of why Eller keeps his spot over Strome, especially when he's been struggling to produce and has gone without a point in five straight games and without a goal in seven?
While Eller hasn't been necessarily lighting it up of late, he plays a key role on the penalty kill and has been strong at both ends of the ice. He's dominating in the face-off dot (he leads all centers with at least 3GP with a FO% of 54 percent and 299 wins), has been strong defensively and ranks second among forwards in shorthanded ice time per game (1:51 minutes, tied with Garnet Hathaway). Strome doesn't play on the PK, so that may have factored into the decision since it's easier to move a second-unit power-play guy rather than a top PK guy (though that's just my take).
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In the end, Laviolette acknowledged that there are tough choices to be made, and at times, players will be sitting out for no reason other than to help with asset management and to keep everybody moving. That's why in the coming days, Strome, like Mantha, will get his chance to draw back in while another player comes out of the mix with more changes and experimentation taking place. And, given Laviolette's comments in recent days, it seems like more forwards than just Strome, Mantha and Aube-Kubel will see time out of the mix.
"What kept us in [the race] at the beginning of the year, that depth that we signed and was able to keep us in the mix, now that we're started to get players back, it puts extra players in the mix," Laviolette explained. "So, if three games from now somebody sits, there's no reason to ask me, 'What did he do wrong?' It's just we've got to manage 14 good players."