During the opening stages of the 2013-14 season the Washington Capitals have gotten a pleasant surprise from Mikhail Grabovski, who was signed during the summer for one-year and $3 million. Grabovski has been everything the Capitals could have wanted, providing nine goals and 16 assists while playing 15:54 per game on the team’s second line.
This output has been a boon for the Capitals’ second line, but it also must lead one to wonder why head coach Adam Oates has not considered moving Grabovski up to the first line.
Currently Washington’s first line consists of Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson, with the final two having gone cold in recent weeks. Over the last nine games the two Swedes have combined to put in two goals and two assists with a minus-8 plus/minus rating which has coincided with a disappointing 4-4-1 record during this run. With neither helping create goals it is clear they are truly having little impact on the team as both are given the task of providing a scoring punch with first line duties.
What is also clear is that something needs to be done soon to shake up the Capitals and get them playing the brand of offensive hockey that seems to be the only way they win games. Over the last nine games they have only scored 2.55 goals per game, which is a major downfall from the nearly three goals per game they had scored in the preceding 21 games. With a faulty defense and preference to play a wide open game this drop is simply unacceptable, and if continued it could see Washington move out of the playoff picture.
While moving Grabovski up to the first line would not automatically fix these scoring issues, it certainly looks like a good idea on paper. Apart from Ovechkin he has scored the most goals on the Capitals, and moving him up to the same line would provide a level of protection that has not been seen since Alexander Semin was on the team. After scoring 22 goals in 28 games played some may say the right winger does not need this protection, but there is no doubting that his team needs the first line to step up their play in order to win games.
Additionally, with a 52.97 face-off percentage on the season it is clear Grabovski will provide an advantage in the circle as Backstrom currently sits at 47.2 percent, and moving to the wing will free him up to focus more on bringing a scoring upside to the table. When this is combined with the fact that Johansson is by nature a center — and plays the type of two way hockey that is perfect on a second line role — it appears that switching around the three could be a good move for everyone involved.
Tops amongst this list is the Capitals team as a whole which will run as a smoother unit with Backstrom, Grabovski and Johansson playing in roles that suit them best. Making such a move may be viewed as drastic from Oates, but ultimately his job is to put the best team on the ice and making this move appears to do just that.
Tyler Leli is a Washington Capitals writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter, “Like” him on Facebook or join his network on Google.