NEW YORK -- After losing 10 of their past 13 games, the Washington Capitals arrived at Madison Square Garden for their morning skate facing a sobering reality. After at least sharing second place in the Metropolitan Division for much of the season, the team woke up Sunday in fifth.
That slide by the Capitals has inspired some drastic line juggling by coach Adam Oates, who will reunite his top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson against the New York Rangers. One of the most potent offensive duos in the League, Ovechkin and Backstrom were split up Friday in a 5-1 road loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. In the closing moments of the game against Columbus, the top line was reunited by Oates.
"I was rotating through the lines and I put them together just because we had a penalty and they all didn't kill," Oates said after the morning skate Sunday. "So I got them out there together. It was instant how well they know each other."
The line was arguably the NHL's best last season, when Ovechkin scored 23 goals in his final 23 games on his way to winning the Hart Trophy as League MVP for the third time. In Columbus, Backstrom was paired with Eric Fehr and Troy Brouwer while Ovechkin skated alongside Brooks Laich and Mikhail Grabovski. With that experiment done for the time being, Washington's reunited top line is hoping to snap the team out of its slump.
"We didn't play good before so we switched up. Let's try it again today. Hopefully we'll be better this time," Backstrom said. "We've got to bounce back from the other night. That was not good from our side. This is a really big game for us. The Rangers are ahead of us in the division. We need these points."
Oates' most drastic move may have been with his third line. After playing the entire season together on arguably the Capitals' most consistent line, Jason Chimera and Joel Ward will be split up when Chimera is moved to the second line to play with Grabovski and Brouwer.
"When you're not scoring 5-on-5 you have to do something, you have to split someone up. You have to spread people out and try to create new chemistry that way," Chimera said. "Most of the guys have been here for a while now. It's not like you're playing with a totally different guy. You're familiar with how everyone plays."
That promotion is mostly a tactical move to combat New York's speed up front, so Chimera and Ward could be reunited in the near future.
"Sometimes you're just looking for a spark on the team. Just trying to find matchups. We're just looking for a little speed," Oates said. "They've got [Carl] Hagelin and [Chris] Kreider, two really fast guys. So we're going to throw some speed right back at them."
Philipp Grubauer will start for Washington after being pulled early in the second period against Columbus. He will go against Henrik Lundqvist, who participated in an optional Rangers skate Sunday. The Rangers have won five of their past six games and have no changes in their lineup.
Here are the projected lineups for the Capitals and Rangers:
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Marcus Johansson
Jason Chimera - Mikhail Grabovski - Troy Brouwer
Martin Erat - Brooks Laich - Joel Ward
Eric Fehr - Jay Beagle - Tom Wilson
Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Mike Green - Dmitry Orlov
John Erskine - Connor Carrick
Scratched: Aaron Volpatti, Steve Oleksy, Michal Neuvirth
Injured: Jack Hillen (tibia surgery)
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Rick Nash
Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Ryan Callahan
Benoit Pouliot - Derick Brassard - Mats Zuccarello
Daniel Carcillo - Brian Boyle - Dominic Moore
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Anton Stralman - Marc Staal
John Moore - Michael Del Zotto
Scratched: Justin Falk
Injured: Derek Dorsett (broken fibula)