Alex Ovechkin is used to working with fellow skill players like Nicklas Backstrom and, in the past, Alexander Semin. But when the Washington Capitals step onto the ice Tuesday night at the Ottawa Senators, it’s likely he’ll again start on a line with grinders Jay Beagle and Joey Crabb.
After experimenting with Ovechkin playing alongside Backstrom and Troy Brouwer midway through Sunday’s victory over the Buffalo Sabres, coach Adam Oates on Monday went back to the combinations used Friday night.
“I actually thought that they provided a lot of speed for [Ovechkin] and could maybe back the ‘D’ off,” Oates said. “And to get back to balance. Obviously, during the course of a game you can change it back and go through combinations. But I liked our balance.”
Ovechkin has a comfort level at left wing, but he doesn’t have a goal at even strength this season. Still, Oates likes what he gets from the superstar when with Beagle and Crabb.
“I guess I’m still learning. I like having north/south guys with him,” Oates said. “Maybe sometimes with the other guys they might try and get too creative. And at the time when I did it [Sunday] we needed creativity. We needed something. We needed a spark. We need a goal. As opposed to just maybe being more relentless as a team going north. And I think playing with Joey and Beags they’re going to go north more.”
Oates said there’s no negative to Ovechkin, who scored his first goal of the season on the power play Sunday, playing with two grinders. Seeing the captain being so aggressive on the forecheck might even be a product of his playing with Beagle and Crabb.
“Obviously, as a team that’s what we’re trying to accomplish,” Oates said. “He got a little bit unlucky when we had that forecheck and then Joey was in the net and he hits him in the butt. But we were doing some good things to let the team keep going north all night long.”
Crabb and Beagle laugh at the notion that they’re first-line players, but they enjoy the space that Ovechkin creates for them.
“I thought we’ve played well together,” Crabb said. “We’ve gotten chances but just not buried and capitalized on those chances. So I’ve been happy, we’ve had some hard work out there and it’s been good.”
Ribeiro rolls along
With a goal and five assists, Mike Ribeiro is the Caps’ leading scorer through five games. It’s not a large sample size to judge on, but at first glance he’s the playmaker this team has needed at the No. 2 center spot.
But the 32-year-old was more interested in talking about his shortcomings than what he has done right so far.
“I think I have to improve a lot of it, but I’m just trying to not get scored on when I’m out there and once I have a chance to create offense, create,” Ribeiro said. “Every time I’m on the ice I’m trying to get more scoring chances for our team than I give against us.”
Ribeiro is satisfied with the way he’s generating chances on the power play, and so is Oates.
“It just adds another guy with that kind of vision and hands and poise,” he said. “On Ovi’s goal his poise is what sets up the goal.”
• Brooks Laich traveled with the Caps to Ottawa and will go on to Toronto, the team announced Monday. The forward hasn’t played or practiced with teammates this season as he deals with a groin injury suffered overseas during the NHL lockout.
• Expect Washington to feature the same defensive pairings at the Senators as it had Sunday, which means John Erskine and Jeff Schultz remaining in the lineup and Roman Hamrlik and Tom Poti out.
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