Capitals go with Alex Ovechkin, Jay Beagle and Joey Crabb on top line

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Cheers and Jeers,Sports,NHL,Capitals,Brian McNally

It is about as unconventional a top line as you will see in the NHL. New Capitals coach Adam Oates has moved star winger Alex Ovechkin back to the left side and put him with two grinders -- center Jay Beagle and right wing Joey Crabb.

On a team with two formidable centers in Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Ribeiro, one of the sport's greatest goal scorers has spent the last two games next to a duo with a combined career total of 62 points. Ovechkin has never finished with fewer than 65 points in his seven years in the NHL. So what's the method to Oates' madness?

"I actually thought that they provided a lot of speed for him 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."

And that's exactly what Oates did when he felt the Caps needed to get more creative with the puck in Sunday's 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres. He simply put Backstrom and winger Troy Brouwer with Ovechkin to start the second period. And yet at practice Monday at Kettler Iceplex, the three players again wearing the top-line red jerseys were Ovechkin, 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."

- Brian McNally

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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