The three-game suspension to forward Tom Wilson created a hole on the Washington Capitals’ top line alongside Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. In their Game 4 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night they attempted to fill it by inserting Devante Smith-Pelly into that spot. The results were not great.
After controlling more than 60 percent of the 5-on-5 shot attempts in the first three game of the series, the Ovechkin line finished Thursday’s game under 35 percent while neither Ovechkin or Smith-Pelly recorded a shot on goal. They were also on the ice for the only even-strength goal of the game when Pittsburgh’s Jake Guentzel broke a scoreless tie midway through the second period.
“I think [Smith-Pelly] did a really good job filling in,” Trotz said after Game 4 when asked what he saw from Smith-Pelly filling in for Wilson. “Obviously Tom is a unique player but I thought that line was going head to head pretty well. There wasn’t much space out there on both sides. I think both teams were committed on both sides.”
Despite those struggles Capitals coach Barry Trotz seems to be sticking with that trio and had them together for the team’s morning skate ahead of Saturday’s Game 5.
In 75 games during the regular season Smith-Pelly scored seven goals and recorded nine assists for the Capitals.
Given how much the trio struggled on Saturday it is a little bit of a surprise to see Trotz go right back to it for such a big game on Saturday, but he did make a point to reference on Saturday morning that he always has a Plan B and a Plan C.
If that line can not generate more than it did in Game 5 Trotz will almost certainly have no choice but to turn to B or C.