Marcus Johansson is still skating on the Capitals’ top line with Alex Ovechkin. Nicklas Backstrom is still rolling with the second group.
One day may be an experiment. Even two. It’s training camp and Bruce Boudreau is known for juggling lines around. He even warned reporters not to read too much into combinations when camp opened up.
But six days of practice? Now that’s a trend. But the Caps’ coach didn’t like the phrasing of the question when asked about putting Backstrom “down” on the second line.
“Nick is a No. 1 center; we’re trying to make, I think, here two really good forward lines instead of loading up on one line,” Boudreau said Thursday. “And then the second line, if you have your best two defensemen against the first line, then your second line is also going to do an awful lot of damage.”
Asked about the demotion of sorts during the first day of camp, Backstrom scoffed as if it wasn’t a worthy question. Approached again Thursday, he was no less agitated.
“We talked about it,” Backstrom said. “It’s his decision. He’s the coach.”
Johansson has brushed it off, too, though more like a young player just happy to be alongside either Ovechkin or Alexander Semin. But this seems like a nice opportunity for the second-year player.
And perhaps an indictment of Backstrom, who managed just two assists and zero goals in the playoffs last season.
“I know I have to be better this year than last year. I can create more chances and work a little harder, maybe play a little more physical than I did last year,” Backstrom said. “You have to get in your head that you need to score those dirty goals instead of all those cute goals.”
But Boudreau made a comparison to Red Wings centers Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg when talking about Ovechkin and Backstrom – even though Ovechkin is most definitely not a center.
“It’s great to have the ability as a team to move back and forth,” he said. “I think it’s the same as they do in Detroit with Zetterberg and Datsyuk. Sometimes they play them together; sometimes they play them – depending on the opposition – on different lines.”
Ovechkin and Backstrom are, more than any of the other young guns, tied together as franchise building blocks – by virtue of their long-term contracts. Four years ago, it looked like they would play together for the next decade or more.
“They still may be,” Boudreau said. “We have more options than we had four years ago, too.”