Breaking up Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom sometimes has its advantages. When Bruce Boudreau coached the Washington Capitals, it was often a way to try and use Backstrom’s transcendent passing abilities to get Alexander Semin going offensively. For Dale Hunter earlier this week, it was about matchups.
First, consider the Caps’ – and the entire NHL’s – respect of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.
“Suter’s all over the ice; he really covers a lot of area. Weber’s a big guy, very strong, and they’ve played together six or seven years; they obviously know how each other plays,” Brooks Laich said Tuesday.
Later that night, the Caps lit up the Predators for four goals, as Laich centered a line with Ovechkin and Brouwer and Backstrom centered a line with Marcus Johansson and Semin.
The result? Breaking up Weber and Suter, something the defensemen don’t like but that Barry Trotz has been forced to do at times.
“They have two lines there with Backstrom and Semin and obviously Ovechkin line. So we just sort of had to split them,” the Predators’ coach said. “Kevin Klein didn’t play … so we were pretty young on the back end so we had to split them for the most part.”
It worked so well because of what Brouwer and Laich could do to Nashville and especially its defensemen – wearing them down with some physical play.
“I think we’re three of the biggest guys on the team,” Brouwer said. “And two of the guys can skate. I’m a little slow. But we move well.”
With the last line change, Hunter – who more than many coaches likes to get favorable matchups – was able to exploit a young Predators defense. Ovechkin undressed Jonathon Blum on his goal, something he likely wouldnt have been able to do with Weber on his hip.
For what it’s worth, Suter doesn’t believe the temporary split with Weber had much to do with the game as a whole.
“It’s always tough when you have to change partners, but that’s part of the game, these guys have so many good lines and good players, you have to be ready for anything and that wasn’t an issue at all,” he said.
But from the Caps’ perspective, it made all the difference. Laich knew they needed to make defensemen chase the puck – and they did just that.
Depth of offense – and Hunter’s decision to split his stars – should get a lot of the credit.
“They split up Weber and Suter for the most part of the game. But we can kind of isolate one of them, put it in their corner, finish our checks on them and just make it no fun for them to go back for the puck,” Brouwer said. “They got to pick and choose which line they’re going to cover.”