The famed Russian sniper took the ice with bottom-sixers Lars Eller and Tom Wilson, according to the Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan. Ovechkin’s usual spot – top line, left wing – was instead occupied by Andre Burakovsky.
Those observing Washington’s practice were first tipped off to the potential change when Ovechkin took the ice wearing a white jersey rather than the red threads usually allotted for the first-line forwards. Line rushes confirmed the apparent shake-up, and both Ovechkin and head coach Barry Trotz suggested post-practice that the captain could indeed start Game 5 as a third-liner.
“I think it’s just to a situation where you want to switch up the lines and get better,” Ovechkin told reporters after practice. “I hope it’s going to work.”
The all-star winger said he and Trotz spoke about the reasoning behind the new assignment.
“Just to try to get three lines going,” Ovechkin said. “I think just spread out the first three lines and see what happens out there… We here to do whatever it takes to get the win and move forward.”
His new centreman, Eller, said he hopes the third-line experiment sparks some more offence for his club.
“Hopefully it’s going to result in goals,” Eller said. “It’s a different look. There was always some good chemistry here in practice, in rushes. For me and Tom, we’re going to try to get inside the blue line and get the puck to Ovi. He’s going to shoot it and then we’re going to go to the net, get rebounds.”
That the Capitals may be looking for a spark should come as no surprise. After outlasting the Pittsburgh Penguins for an overtime victory in Game 3 of their second-round series, Washington came up short in Game 4, losing to a Penguins squad missing crucially important names at every position. The Capitals now head into Game 5 down 3-1 in the series, facing the potential of seeing their promising season cut short by Pittsburgh for the second straight year.
Ovechkin’s role with the Capitals has been in flux throughout his club’s post-season run. While there’s no question he remains the team’s most potent offensive threat – his four points through the series’ four games are tied for the team lead – the veteran sniper has seen his ice-time fluctuate significantly during these playoffs, seeing as little as 15:08 during Game 3 of Washington’s series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He’s logged at least 19 minutes in each of the Capitals’ second-round tilts thus far.
However, with a potential bottom-six assignment on the horizon for the future Hall of Famer, it’s unclear what exactly his role will look like next time the Capitals and Penguins meet.