The Washington Times - January 31, 2013, 11:35AM

TORONTO | Alex Ovechkin will likely start Thursday night’s game at the Toronto Maple Leafs on a line with Jay Beagle and Joey Crabb.

That trio has started each of the past three games.


“You know what, we spent a lot of time talking about the conditioning of the guys coming off the lockout, and just for balance of our team and to give Ovi some looks with two guys that for 60 minutes can maybe carry the pace a little bit and help him out,” coach Adam Oates said.

Even thought Ovechkin hasn’t scored an even-strength goal this season, his overall game has been sharp. He has been aggressive on the forecheck and hustling to loose pucks.

But the Caps need Ovechkin to score.

Part of it is the team has to do that to for him,” Oates said. “And he has to think it; you have to keep thinking your position, for sure, all the time. The game’s always evolving. Every night every team’s a little bit better and there’s no room out there anymore. It’s tough.”

Michal Neuvirth gets his fifth straight start in goal.

He’s played good hockey,” Oates said of Neuvirth.

Brooks Laich, skating with teammates for the first time this season while nursing a groin injury, did not take line rushes, as expected.

It remains to be seen which two defensemen will be healthy scratches. Marcus Johansson is back in for Mathieu Perreault.

“I think sometimes as a young guy you need that, to sit upstairs and see,” Oates said. “He actually got to watch good games; our team played good hockey. And to put yourself in that position. So hopefully he’s just going to come in and play hard and fit in.”

Johansson said it’s a good thing to see systems from a distance. He was a healthy scratch for the past two games.

“I want to play. That’s why I’m here,” Johansson said. “I want to play and it’s not fun to sit out but it’s his decision and I respect his decision. As I said, it’s his decision he’s the coach you’ve got to deal with it, learn and move on.”

With Johansson replacing Perreault, some thing change for linemates Matt Hendricks and Eric Fehr.

“Marcus is a very good skater,” Hendricks said. “I think when Marcus is playing his best hockey he’s playing the game fast, he’s skating fast, he’s winning battles to pucks and when he does he seems to catch those defenders in bad positions and he can skate right around them, right by them and get those wrap-around goals that we’ve seen him score and set up great plays that way.”

Perreault, Roman Hamrlik and Tom Poti will be the healthy scratches.

Here are the lines and pairings:

Alex Ovechkin - Jay Beagle - Joey Crabb

Wojtek Wolski - Nicklas Backstrom - Troy Brouwer

Jason Chimera - Mike Ribeiro - Joel Ward

Matt Hendricks - Marcus Johansson - Eric Fehr

Karl Alzner - Mike Green

John Erskine - John Carlson

Jeff Schultz - Tomas Kundratek