Nicklas Backstrom and Jason Arnott switched places in the middle of the top two lines for the Washington Capitals at practice Saturday. Bruce Boudreau downplayed the move, blaming a wardrobe malfunction, but his past history suggests otherwise.
Arnott was between Alex Ovechkin and Mike Knuble on the team's top line for practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex while Backstrom skated between Marco Sturm and Alexander Semin.
"Actually, they just put on the wrong jerseys so I left them out there for practice," Boudreau said. "I could have changed it, but I knew we were only doing one drill that anything to do with it, so I just left it."
Boudreau has dropped the "wrong jersey" rationale a few times during his tenure as Capitals coach. He's also used the term "just wanted to see what it looked like" when he switches lines around. The deal is this: when Boudreau tries to downplay a line change, it has almost always ended up happening for the next game.
If Backstrom is not skating with the second line against the New York Rangers for Game 3 on Sunday at Madison Square, it might be the first time Boudreau was speaking the truth on the "wrong jersey" rationale since he became the team's coach in November 2007.
"It doesn't matter I think who we play with," Backstrom said. "There are such good players on this team. It is up to the coach to decide who we play with."
This is nothing new for Backstrom -- Boudreau has dropped him to the second line to play with Semin on several occasions during the postseason in the previous three years. Those two combined to have a great series against Philadelphia in 2008, carrying the Washington offense as the Capitals rallied to force Game 7 after being down 3-1.
It worked pretty well again against the Rangers in 2009. Both years Backstrom was switching places with Sergei Fedorov. Now Boudreau has another dependable veteran in Arnott who he can put with Ovechkin and force John Tortorella to decide which duo he wants to put Marc Staal and Dan Girardi on the ice against.
Tortorella has the last change but the choice between deploying his top pairing against Ovechkin or Backstrom/Semin is not an easy one. That is, of course, if Boudreau follows through and makes the switch for the start of Game 3.
"Yeah, I am [used to it]," Backstrom said. "It is nothing wrong with it. Sometimes you have to I guess. ... They're both good players. I just play where coach tells me to."