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Caps’ new unit checks out
Question of the Day
Four nights ago, the Carolina Hurricanes' top line of Rod Brind'Amour, Justin Williams and Ray Whitney combined for four goals and nine points in a rout of the Washington Capitals.
Three nights ago, Williams had a goal when the team was in the midst of a line change, but that was it for the trio in a dominating win by the Caps.
One of the main reasons Washington was able to control one of the highest-scoring lines in the league -- all three are in the top 32 in the NHL in points -- was the formation of a new checking unit. With Matt Bradley out of the lineup for personal reasons and Eric Fehr recalled from Hershey, coach Glen Hanlon shuffled his lines Saturday night. The new checking line -- Boyd Gordon, Brian Sutherby and Matt Pettinger -- spent most of its time on the ice against Carolina's top group, and the results were extremely positive.
"They played how a checking line should play, and they had scoring chances [of their own]," Hanlon said. "One of the key things to having a checking line is if they play against the other team's top line, if you can get in there and make centers cycle pucks in their own zone, it really takes away some of the sting from their offensive attack. It really was a big game for them."
The trio clicked and was rewarded with plenty of ice time. Gordon and Pettinger were first and second among Caps forwards in that category with more than 20 minutes, and Sutherby was fourth just behind captain Chris Clark. Before the switch, Pettinger was playing on Alexander Semin's line and Gordon saw time at center on the second and fourth units.
By pairing Gordon and Sutherby, the line has two guys who are normally centers with plenty of faceoff experience.
"It's lefty-righty, so they can tag team on faceoffs, and both of them can play equally as well on the wings because they have good hockey sense," Hanlon said.
"I think Gordo was 7-for-12 against Brind'Amour, which for us, we haven't been close to that. That's three or four extra times where you are getting control of the puck, and especially in your D-zone that is a huge plus."
Bradley's return is imminent, as is that of right wing Richard Zednik, so Hanlon will have some tough line combination choices to make. When Bradley and Ben Clymer teamed with Sutherby, the unit was called the CBS line. One reporter dubbed the new checking group the GPS line after Saturday night's game.
Should the GPS line stick together, it will face another stiff challenge against Ottawa tonight. The Senators' first line features two of the top wings in the league in Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley.
For the Caps, who were five points out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference through Sunday, a convincing win against the Stanley Cup champions might be something to build on as they embark on a three-game road trip.
"I sure hope so. That is the plan," Sutherby said. "I thought the last time we went into Ottawa we did some good things, and we'll look at some game tape and hopefully we can get on a roll here."
By Andrew P. Napolitano
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