- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Washington Capitals are off to one of the worst starts in franchise history, but coach Adam Oates isn’t standing pat. He changed up his lines again Wednesday in preparation for Thursday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

This time Marcus Johansson joined Nicklas Backstrom and Troy Brouwer on one line, while Alex Ovechkin remained on right wing alongside Wojtek Wolski and Mike Ribeiro.

“It’s a constant shuffle and you’re always trying to find chemistry,” Oates said.

Just 10 games into his tenure, Oates is still trying to find the right combinations. Earlier, he tried Ovechkin with Joey Crabb and Jay Beagle and has mixed and matched plenty.

Brouwer said most players have a good idea of how to play with a variety of teammates, so the day-to-day changes aren’t an issue. But Oates has made plenty of in-game changes to find a “spark.”

“What gets difficult is when they start changing lines in the middle of the game because you don’t have time to talk about it and go over what you’re expecting out of each other,” Brouwer said. “Every team does it, every coach does it, when you’re losing, the lines seem to be changing more often.”

Johansson earned a promotion Wednesday after scoring his first goal of the season in the 3-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. It has been an up-and-down time for the 22-year-old forward, who has gone from the top line with Ovechkin and Backstrom to healthy scratch and everything in between.

“Maybe starting him with Nick and Ovi at the beginning [of the season] might’ve been a wrong decision. I don’t know. It might’ve been too much,” Oates said. “But just to give him a fresh approach.”

One thing will stay the same: The Caps will go back to goaltender Michal Neuvirth despite an uneven performance against Toronto.

“He’s played pretty good and we need a goalie to have a good game, and I think it’s gonna be Michal,” Oates said.

Since HBO’s “24/7,” when Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Neuvirth had a “shaky” glove, Neuvirth is 2-0-1 with two shutouts, a 1.32 goals-against average and .954 save percentage vs. Pittsburgh.

Beagle seeks sacrifice

Jay Beagle wants to do his best impression of Pedro Cerrano from “Major League.” The Caps center would do just about anything right now to start the bounces going the other way.

“There are a lot of bounces that aren’t going our way,” Beagle said. “I don’t know if we have to sacrifice a cow or something. I don’t know what we have to do.”

Ex-Caps right wing Mike Knuble once vowed to sacrifice a goat to cure a scoring slump. Since dead animals were the subject of conversation, Beagle reacted well to news that there was a dead mouse in the media room at the team’s practice facility.

“Good,” he said. “Let’s start with that.”

Why not a goat? Why not start small? The Caps are 2-7-1, and the season is almost a quarter of the way over.

“No, I’m starting big,” Beagle said. “There’s no time for starting small. It’s big.”

Hamrlik ‘working hard’

Oates praised defenseman Tom Poti’s play in the Maple Leafs game, and it looks like the same six will play on the blue line against the Penguins.

That means 39-year-old Roman Hamrlik is expected to be a healthy scratch for the eighth straight game. Oates said that Hamrlik will “get his chance,” but cited the play of the defensemen in the lineup more than anything the veteran needs to do.

“I felt good, pretty good, the first three games I played,” Hamrlik said. “I don’t know what to say.”

Hamrlik could struggle when he returns to the lineup if he spends several weeks out. But for now all he can do is practice patience.

“Obviously just keep working, keep working hard in the practices,” Hamrlik said. “I’ve been in this situation many times, especially last year with Dale [Hunter]. Now it’s new system and I’m in the same track. Stay positive and keep working hard and hopefully I’m gonna get a chance to play again.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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