For the last few games, the lines for the Washington Capitals had stayed pretty consistent. In fact, in the morning skate leading up to the Capitals’ most recent game against the Winnipeg Jets, the lines were the exact same as they had been in the prior two games.
But when the Capitals took the ice for the start of the game, Tom Wilson lined up alongside Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin on the top line. Normally, Justin Williams had taken the spot, but Williams was moved down to the second line with Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
Over the course of the game, Williams and Wilson would periodically swap lines. What was the reason behind the initial change?
“Just a little different look,” coach Barry Trotz said. “A little more, I’ll say size on that [top line]. Big Buff [Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien] is a heavy load to handle, so sometimes you put a little more weight up there.”
Byfuglien is one of the more unique players in the NHL. The 31-year-old was responsible for lining up against Washington’s top line. He has a unique ability to play both as a forward and a defenseman, but what makes Byfuglien particularly unique is his size. At 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, Byfuglien is one of the largest and most physically-imposing players in the NHL.
Trotz’s mindset was to put Wilson, who has a lot of size of his own at 6-foot-4 and 217 pounds, out against Byfuglien to try to neutralize his physical game.
The Capitals top line finished with two goals, one from Backstrom and one from Ovechkin, and both times Williams was on the ice. So while the move to put Wilson on the top line made sense in theory, the Capitals were still able to produce against Byfuglien with Trotz’s original game plan.