Caps’ third line sees chances to score thanks to defense

Washington Capitals left wing Jason Chimera, right, celebrates his goal with teammate Karl Alzner (27) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)Washington Capitals left wing Jason Chimera, right, celebrates his goal with teammate Karl Alzner (27) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

It’s no secret that coach Bruce Boudreau likes to juggle his lines. Even newcomers such as Troy Brouwer are well-aware of his reputation to shake things up, early and often.

Three of the Washington Capitals’ four lines have seen that Boudreau shake-and-bake action — but not the trio of left wing Jason Chimera, center Brooks Laich and right wing Joel Ward. No, the third line has been too good to take apart, given that it has developed into a true two-way checking unit and embraces that role.

“It’s a pretty strong line,” Ward said. “It’s no secret. We’re just going to try to get in on the forecheck as best we can, and we’re just excited to get on the ice and feed off the crowd as much as we can and try to create chances.”

The Chimera-Laich-Ward grouping came together when it was obvious the Capitals were stronger with Laich at third-line center than at second-line left wing. Since then, they have been put against each team’s top line.

So far, they’ve had to defend the likes of Carolina’s Eric Staal, Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, Ottawa’s Jason Spezza and, on Tuesday night against the Florida Panthers, Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg. Chimera, Laich and Ward have accepted the challenge.

“A lot of those times those top lines, they don’t want to play in their own end,” Chimera said. “I think we all really take pride in going against [opponents’] No. 1 line and playing really good defense.”

Being a dominant checking line — which works in conjunction with smart defensemen such as Karl Alzner and John Carlson — is about mindset.

For Washington’s third line, it’s about knowing the need to keep top lines contained.

“Sometimes you might want to go a little more offensive, but you have to realize in the grand scheme of things maybe it’s better that you don’t go chance-for-chance and you make a safe play and maybe hang back a little bit,” Laich said.

NHL stars are going to score, and Staal and Malkin each made that clear against the Caps. And while even the best checking lines can’t totally stop that, Washington’s trio isn’t satisfied just being a shutdown group.

No, Laich, Chimera and Ward dig offensive hockey, too.

“Two-way play doesn’t mean you just sit back and be solid defensively. If you play solid defensively, it should give you chances offensively because you turn pucks over and maybe catch them on a three-on-two,” Laich said. “We’ve got three big guys that can skate, that can handle the puck.”

Offensive spurts have been there early on, with Chimera particularly showing a knack for being in the right place at the right time to score goals. Ward showed in last year’s playoffs he can turn up the offensive element of his game. And Laich has three times been a 20-goal scorer.

With that kind of potential, the trio hopes to produce — on both ends of ice.

“Two-way hockey, you never take your foot off the gas,” Laich said. “When you have the puck, you’re trying to score. And when you don’t have the puck you’re playing aggressive to try to get it back. I think we can be a factor in games.”

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