City Desk

Unprecedented Coaching Decision Results in Improbable Caps Victory

When it comes to line combinations, Washington Capitals Head Coach Glen Hanlon likes to shake things up. You never know what the guy is going to do: play people out of position, put an enforcer on the power play, convert a forward to a defenseman then back again, or bring up some schlub from the minor leagues and throw him out on the first line for a few shifts only to bench him for the rest of the night.

Last night, Hanlon tried something extraordinary: He tried using common sense. He promoted his best center (Michael Nylander) to the first line to play with the team’s franchise winger (Alexander Ovechkin). He moved defensive center Boyd Gordon—who had recently been centering Ovechkin on the first line—back to his regular spot on the shutdown line. He shifted Viktor Kozlov—a natural right wing who had been playing center because of a supposed chemistry with Ovechkin—back to the right wing, where Kozlov has always enjoyed more success. He moved rookie center Nicklas Backstrom—who had been playing both wing positions while adjusting to the NHL game—to center. And he moved Tomas Fleischmann—who has been bouncing in, out, and all around the depth chart so far this season—back to the left wing, where he has constantly proven to be the most productive.

The result? The Caps, who came limping into Ottawa after losing 10 of their last 12 games and sitting in last place in the Eastern Conference, beat the league-leading Senators, who were on an eight-game winning streak and off to the best start (13-1-0) in NHL history. And they did so in convincing fashion by the score of 4-1. So, who scored all those goals for the struggling Caps’ offense? In a span of 5 minutes and 45 seconds during the second period, Backstrom scored his first career NHL goal, Kozlov (who also had two assists) scored his third goal of the season, and Fleischmann scored his third goal of the season. (Ovechkin opened the scoring earlier in the first period; Nylander added two assists as well.)

How about that? Who would have guessed that, when you put players in their actual positions, they score goals? It only took Hanlon 16 games to figure that one out.

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