During last night's second period Jason Chimera was credited with a goal on a deflected puck shot through traffic by John Carlson. Upon further review, the goal was taken from Chimera and given to Joel Ward. Not to be deterred, the Edmonton native got back on the scoresheet thanks to some great defense-turns-to-offense from Mikhail Grabovski.
On the third goal of the game, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was on the receiving end of some veteran schooling from Nicklas Backstrom. On the fourth goal, it was Jordan Eberle's turn to take some notes. Let's take a look:
Eberle has a ton of talent, with a great pair of hands, but trying to beat NHL players with stickhandling at the blue line is a risky proposition. Grabovski swoops around Eberle on the backcheck, picks his pocket, and then races up the ice (in one of the faster combinations the Caps could assemble) with Chimera. The play looks pretty simple - Grabovski steals the puck, carries the puck, dishes the puck, and Chimera uses those famous hands of his to snipe the puck over Devan Dubnyk's glove hand. The key to the play, however, is more subtle:
When Grabovski stole the puck and headed through the neutral zone, he and Chimera were on a two-on-two rush against Justin Schultz and Jeff Petry. Grabovski's initial line through the neutral zone had him on the right side (near side) of the center faceoff circle. This had he and Chimera each square with one Oilers defender. Then Grabovski cut to his left, closer to Chimera, effectively isolating Petry and turning a two-on-two into a two-on-one attack, neutralizing Schultz's presence. The speed that Grabovski and Chimera have, along with the isolation of Petry, forced the Oilers to back further into their zone than they normally would on a two-on-two rush. Just before the top of the circles, Grabovski slid a deft pass to Chimera, and Schultz wasn't able to get across the ice to challenge Chimera before the shot:
Caps fans have had questions about line combinations throughout this young season, and Mikhail Grabovski being slotted in the third line is just the most recent. Last night, however, the deployment paid off as the third line cashed in two goals (matching the production of Alex Ovechkin's top line), with Grabovski's defensive acumen and speed being crucial to the Caps' final goal, and had strong possession numbers throughout. The big night for the third line capped off a great night... well, for the Caps and their fans. Maybe not so much for Dallas Eakins:
With Jason Chimera and Joel Ward, don't expect the third line to continue to provide such pretty goals, but the two players are both willing to get dirty down low (see the second goal) and can play responsible defense. Grabovski adds an element of speed and offensive creativity to the line, without sacrificing defense. It will be interesting to watch whether this line can keep producing (and how long they stay together), but we'd note that all of Grabovski's even-strength points this season have come with Ward on the ice. Maybe the counterintuitive deployment isn't such a bad thing.