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Capitals Lines Shakeup: Eller Promoted, Defense Changes



Capitals Lars Eller and Alex Ovechkin

ARLINGTON, V.A. — As the Washington Capitals deal with yet another major injury and a suspension for their No. 1 center, head coach Peter Laviolette shook up the lineup yet again prior to Thursday’s tilt against the Ottawa Senators.

Washington will be without Connor Brown, who is out long-term with a lower-body injury, and Evgeny Kuznetsov, who will sit for one game after high-sticking Kyle Burroughs, as the team seeks its third straight win up north. With Kuznetsov and Brown out of the mix on the top six, Laviolette promoted an interesting name to the first line: Lars Eller.

The 33-year-old, who is coming off the “most challenging” season of his career, said he is in the “best shape of his life” to open the season. Eller scored his first of the season en route to the Capitals win over the Vancouver Canucks on Monday, and his third line has also been noticeable to open the campaign. Taking his performance into account, Laviolette explained the decision to put Eller with Alex Ovechkin and leading scorer Conor Sheary with No. 92 out, Nicklas Backstrom rehabbing from hip resurfacing surgery and Dylan Strome finding solid chemistry with T.J. Oshie.

READ MORE ON WHN: What Will Washington Capitals Do With Connor Brown Out Long Term?

“There’s no Kuznetsov and there’s no Backstrom, so Lars is a veteran player that I think he’s going to do fine in a situation like that… with the guys going out of the lineup, you’re now missing two pieces,” Laviolette said. “So you’ve got to try some new things and different things. Lars will go there, and he’s got more than enough of what it takes to be successful on that line. Sheary is playing really well, ‘O’ had a big game, and maybe that gets him going too with production and offense. And it should be a good line for us.”

Laviolette also tweaked the defensive pairings after a rough start to the season for the blue line. Missed assignments, turnovers and poor coverage has led to a few bad goals against, and it’s been strange to see for a blue line that clicked so well in 2021-22 that it barely changed this year, minus the fact that Justin Schultz left for the Seattle Kraken.

Washington now has Dmitry Orlov skating with John Carlson and Martin Fehervary on the second pairing with Nick Jensen. Erik Gustafsson and Trevor van Riemsdyk are still working together.

“From a production standpoint, it just hadn’t been there. So Kevin McCarthy and I just talked. He thought that switching the pairs might just maybe create a spark,” Laviolette added. “I thought it did. I thought we played much better in the third period. So leave it for a bit here and see how it goes.”