TORONTO — That Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau likes to shake up his lines is not new information. But Cody Eakin skating with Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer? That’s a new trick.
“It could be one shift,” Boudreau said. “We’re just trying to find a little bit of offense. When you’re not scoring, you’ve got to change things up and move things around. Hopefully this will work for tonight.”
That’s at least how things will start Saturday night: Backstrom centering Eakin and Brouwer and Alex Ovechkin playing with Marcus Johansson and Alexander Semin as the Caps try to snap out of some losing ways at the Toronto Maple Leafs.
For Eakin, it appears like a heck of an opportunity to play with as gifted a passing center as Backstrom.
“That’s what he does — he dishes the puck, and he’s pretty darn good at it,” Eakin said. “If there’s a chance, we’re going to try to find him and give him the puck and let him find us.”
Eakin, 20, was plastered to the bench for the third period of both games against the New Jersey Devils, Nov. 11 and Nov. 12. But since then, his play has been impressive enough to earn this turn, which could include power-play time.
“He has played well; he’s been one of our better players,” Boudreau said. “That’s unfortunate when a 20-year-old has been one of your better players the last couple games.”
Boudreau likes different combinations, but this trio could be particularly effective at both ends of the ice.
“I think [Eakin’s] game is very simplistic, and me and Nicky like to kind to kind of dumb our game down as much as we can to make sure that we get puck possession and create some offensive chances,” Brouwer said.
Boudreau explained that defense wasn’t a reason to put Eakin, Backstrom and Brouwer together, but the Swedish center pointed out just how responsible they can be.
“I think Cody’s been playing center before,” Backstrom said. “If I go down low, maybe he can take after me and be a little bit more defensive.”
Brouwer sees this as a chance for more balanced, two-way hockey.
“You look at some of our players and there’s no reason why a few of us should be in the minuses,” he said. “Maybe just making sure each line is defensively responsible and has those guys that you can look at to make sure that you’re winning D-zone draws, doing the right things along the wall to make sure the pucks get out and maybe paying the price if you have to take a hit along the wall to get the puck out.”
The Ovechkin-Johansson-Semin line is built for a bit of a different purpose.
“The other three guys are all really fast and very offensively gifted,” said Boudreau, who would like to get both Ovechkin and Semin going.
Familiarity — even though the three haven’t spent a lot of time together — helps the Russian wingers.
“Me and Sasha know each other well,” Ovechkin said. “It’s not new line. It’s new line right now.”
And if Backstrom’s new line does its job, the Caps could find their way out of this rough stretch.
The key might be Eakin and what he can add with a bigger role.
“He’s a good, young player with a lot of energy and a lot to prove right now,” Brouwer said. “Hopefully he fits in well with us. The type of player he is, I think he will.”