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‘Unacceptable’: Laviolette Explains Capitals Shakeup

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Washington Capitals

ARLINGTON, V.A. — After back-to-back losses to open the 2022-23 campaign, the Washington Capitals saw quite a bit of a change-up at their morning skate prior to Saturday’s tilt against the Montreal Canadiens. And right now, that’s what this group needs, per head coach Peter Laviolette.

Against the Canadiens, Washington will see a new set of three forward lines and two new power-play units as it looks to ignite a spark amid all-too-familiar struggles to open the season.

“We’ve got to generate more. In certain areas, we’re doing enough to shoot ourselves in the foot, and sometimes you cover that by scoring more goals than the opposition. And we haven’t been able to do that,” Laviolette said. “We’re trying to fix the things that have been hurting us a little bit and see if we can’t take down the goals the against a little bit. But we need to create more as well on 5-on-5, power play. It’s early in the season and we’re just looking for changes as a starting point. If you’ve been there for a little bit, it hasn’t produced, hasn’t worked, let’s take a look at something else and see if that works.”

One of the notable changes came on the top line. Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has been Alex Ovechkin‘s consistent linemate over the last five seasons, moved down to the second line, while Dylan Strome replaced him at 1C. Strome will center Ovechkin and Connor Brown on Saturday, while Kuznetsov will work between Anthony Mantha and T.J. Oshie. Meanwhile, Aliaksei Protas, who was on the second line to open the year, will take Oshie’s place as the 3RW with Lars Eller and Marcus Johansson.

The defensive pairings, which have seen their fair share of trouble to open the new season, will remain the same for now.

“I do think that we need to play better on defense,” Laviolette added. “Our defensemen can play better, so they don’t get a pass, either. There’s just a little bit more history for them.”

READ MORE ON WHN: Kuemper Starts, Line Combinations & What To Know As Washington Capitals Face Montreal Canadiens

And then, of course, there are big tweaks on the power play. Kuznetsov was taken off that first unit and replaced with Johansson, who will play down-low while Strome works the half-wall. Ovechkin, Oshie and John Carlson remain on PP1. Kuznetsov will still get 5-on-4 time on the second unit, where he will work with Mantha, Brown, Dmitry Orlov and Erik Gustafsson.

“It hasn’t worked the way we wanted it to start, so try something different,” Laviolette said, adding, “[Strome] was good [on the half-wall in preseason]. I thought he controlled, he kind of worked in and became an option to shoot, an option to make plays. Just to change it.

“We’re going to need both units. The way it’s worded in the room is the unit that gets going will be the unit that gets out of the next power play.”

What’s Wrong With The Capitals Power Play & How To Fix It

Ultimately, though, Laviolette tweaked things to give his team a wake-up call before it gets too late. Washington hadn’t dropped two straight games to open the season in nearly a decade. And that alone is a red flag, one that Laviolette wants everyone to see: that this start to the season is not up to the team’s expectations.

“There’s urgency to win. That’s what we’re here to do. We’re not here to play the game, we’re here to win the game. So when the first two games don’t go the way you want, the urgency cranks up,” Laviolette said. “This team has been a successful team in the regular season for a lot of years. So the standard right now is unacceptable. And I believe you can change it. In one game, you can change what your expectation is… there should be some more urgency.”

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