There are some ominous statistics to ponder ahead of the Washington Capitals’ match-up with the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night. Vancouver has won eight out of their last nine meetings against Washington, outscoring the Caps 37-19 during that stretch. Washington has lost four straight in Vancouver, and it will likely be five straight by the final horn tonight unless head coach Adam Oates changes a few things.
The Caps (5-6-0) have had a fairly good run of late after Oates tinkered with his lines on October 19. They’ve grabbed three wins from four games since Oates boldly inserted Martin Erat into the second line, moved Brook Laich to center on that same line and placed Mikhail Grabovski on the third line. More tinkering with the team is in order if the Capitals hope to change the trend of losing in Vancouver.
Firstly, even though he scored his first goal as a Cap on Saturday in Washington’s losing effort against the Calgary Flames, it’s time to end the Aaron Volpatti experiment. The fourth line doesn’t get much ice time, but why not make the most of it by bringing back recent healthy scratch Jay Beagle?
During his five games this season, Beagle has a face-off win percentage of 68.8 percent (22 successful draws from 32 face-offs). Oates should start Beagle because winning draws produces goals. If Beagle was to reappear, current fourth line center Eric Fehr could easily make way for him by sliding over to the left wing.
And then there is Tom Wilson. The spunky 19-year-old is underutilized, especially during power plays. Oates relies on Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Troy Brouwer and Grabovski for his first power play unit and then inserts Fehr, Marcus Johansson and Joel Ward when that first group tires. Oates should think about sending in Wilson.
Wilson is a talented goal scorer. If the Caps’ management has allowed Wilson to stay in the NHL based on his talent as a junior (23 goals in 48 games for the Plymouth Whalers in 2012-13), then they should let him get out there on the power play. Ward or Fehr could make room for Wilson on the man-advantage second unit.
The biggest change that must occur tonight, however, is the energy and concentration levels during the first period. The Caps must come out ready to play from the first face-off. Too many times this season, the boys in red were guilty of lethargy during the opening frame and that’s resulted in them being outscored 12-6 in period one over their 11 games.
The Caps need something to get them ready to play at 100 percent right from the start. Stronger smelling salts, a louder pregame pep talk, Alex Ovechkin doing a stand-up comedy routine in the locker room—anything.
If it’s business as usual tonight for the Caps, expect a heavy defeat.