Capitals Notebook: Strome & Ovechkin Reunite, Why Eller Is Healthy Scratch
Washington Capitals forward Lars Eller will draw out as a healthy scratch while Dylan Strome and Alex Ovechkin reunite vs. the New York Islanders.
The Washington Capitals are in for one of the most important matchups of the season and will have a new-look lineup as they will try to get back to their winning ways while taking on their Metro Division rivals in the New York islanders, who are closing the gap in the playoff race.
Head coach Peter Laviolette continues to balance 14 healthy forwards, and after scratching Dylan Strome on Saturday, he put the forward back into the mix and on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Conor Sheary — and rightfully so.
Together at 5-on-5, Strome and Ovechkin have a 59.09 goals-for percentage, which is significantly higher than the GF% that Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin have at even strength. Both both also benefit more from each other than they do without each other, as their GF% and xGF% go down when they are separated. Without either of them on the ice, the GF% also goes down.
While Ovechkin and Kuznetsov have years of history, things just weren't working out for the two at even strength.
With Strome back in, Laviolette had to find another odd man out, and this time around, it is Lars Eller.
The Dane will be a healthy scratch for the first time this season. He has gone the last six games without a point and hasn't scored a goal in eight games. Eller also took a costly penalty back on Saturday against Philly. Still, there's no denying the 33-year-old's prowess in the face-off circle and his work on the penalty kill, but with him out of the mix, the team can count on Strome to win draws while utilizing Conor Sheary and other pieces more on the PK.
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When it comes to why he comes out, it is not necessarily just because of the lack of production; it is to get a different look and to continue to search for the best possible lineup while keeping all of the cooks in the kitchen actively involved. Plus, the Strome scratch on Saturday didn't prove to work out, as the team went 0-for-3 on the power play. The Capitals did manage 40 shots on goal, but couldn't solve Carter Hart. Plus, with the power play needing a spark as it hasn't converted in four straight games, getting Strome back adds another piece to that second unit.
Plus, looking at the contributions of Marcus Johansson and Sonny Milano, they've earned a longer stay in the lineup, and Mantha, who was a healthy scratch for back-to-back games earlier in the week, had one of his stronger games in his return on Saturday and has some of the best chances among forwards. Taking that into account, as well as Eller's lack of consistency and discipline over this last stretch, it makes sense to have him take a seat while giving others a chance to draw back into the mix.
Anthony Mantha is also back in the top six, Nicklas Backstrom will work on the third line with Sonny Milano and Tom Wilson and Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway are reunited. Here are the full combinations, per The Washington Post's Samantha Pell:
Alex Ovechkin-Dylan Strome-Conor Sheary
Anthony Mantha-Evgeny Kuznetsov-T.J. Oshie
Sonny Milano-Nicklas Backstrom-Tom Wilson
Marcus Johansson-Nic Dowd-Garnet Hathaway
Erik Gustafsson-Trevor van Riemsdyk
Dmitry Orlov-Nick Jensen
Matt Irwin-Martin Fehervary