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Caps’ sputtering could mean reunion for Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin

Amid slump, Hunter puts three offensive stars together in practice

** FILE ** Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom celebrates with left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) after Backstrom scored on Phoenix Coyotes goalie Jason LaBarbera during the third period of an NHL game in Washington on Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. The Capitals won 4-3. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)** FILE ** Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom celebrates with left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) after Backstrom scored on Phoenix Coyotes goalie Jason LaBarbera during the third period of an NHL game in Washington on Monday, Nov. 21, 2011. The Capitals won 4-3. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
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SUNRISE, Fla. — Alex Ovechkin has just one goal in his past 12 games. Alexander Semin has missed the past two games with a shoulder injury but hadn't scored in his previous four.

Meanwhile, the Washington Capitals are in a tailspin that has seen them go 1-5 with two different coaches over the past week and a half. So Tuesday's practice featured a noticeable change: Ovechkin and Semin flanking leading scorer Nicklas Backstrom on the Caps' top line.

"I think that we've been losing, so we've got to do something to mix it up a little bit," Backstrom said. "We've been playing with each other before, and when we do the right things, we're good together."

Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin haven't played a full game together this season but have been together for fits and spurts — a shift here and there. And while it's very possible they will start together Wednesday night at the Ottawa Senators, coach Dale Hunter wasn't making any promises of that.

"Just in practice here — scramble the lines around," he said. "You never know where they end up, though."

The trio, which most recently spent significant time together last season, typically works while they're playing responsibly and putting up numbers. When that doesn't happen, at least under Bruce Boudreau, they would be broken up quickly.

"We should at least try to do the right things all the time," Backstrom said. "You're not going to have 82 really good games. But at least do the right things out there, and that's what we want to do out there, and hopefully we will be successful."

Semin, who has five goals, five assists and a minus-4 rating this season, had a talk with Hunter and expects to be back in the lineup Wednesday at the Senators. Hunter predictably wouldn't reveal the subjects of that talk.
"Just coach-player conversation," he said. "It's between the coach and the player."

The idea is likely to try to get both Russian wingers going. Backstrom has been the Caps' best player and is by far the leading scorer with 27 points (nine goals, 18 assists).

"Nick's a good player. Backsy, he's offensive; he's defensive," Hunter said. "When you have a guy killing penalties and also playing your first power play, you know you've got a player that goes at both ends of the ice."

Ovechkin has eight goals and 11 assists and is on pace for 25 goals and 35 assists. That would be by far his lowest career output. Monday — 22:05 — included his highest ice time of the season.

"[If] I want to have that kind of trust, I have to use it, and I have to score goals," Ovechkin said Monday night. "I have pretty good chances a couple times. Pucks just don't want to go in when I shoot it. Maybe I just have to, when I take a shot, I have to look where I have to shoot. Sometimes it just go in; sometimes it's not."

Hunter said he sees the same thing.

"He had scoring chances. It's one of these things where the puck's not going in," Hunter said. "It's either hitting somebody — like the end of the game there he hit a stick. It could've went in. ... It went through and hit a stick just before it hit the net. That's the difference right now. You've just got to keep push, push, push. Keep pushing and getting your shots."

Ovechkin may get more of them on a high-flying line with Backstrom and Semin. And the trio might be able to produce turnovers and odd-man rushes, something Hunter's system is predicated on. The belief is certainly there that the line — if together — can do it.

"Yeah," Backstrom said, "if we play right."

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