It was clear after the Capitals’ loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday that change was needed on the blue line. Barry Trotz did indeed change the third defensive pair ahead of Wednesday’s rivalry game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but it was perhaps not the change many expected.
It will be Taylor Chorney, not Aaron Ness, who comes out of the lineup as Christian Djoos is set to make his NHL debut. That is a bit surprising considering Ness has taken four minor penalties in three games this season and Trotz limited his playing time Monday to less than nine minutes.
But despite not coming out of the lineup, Ness will still see a change. With Djoos coming in to play on the left side, Ness, a left-handed shot, will move to the right. Chorney, who is also a left-handed shot, had previously played on the right the first three games with Ness on the left.
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Trotz explained the move after Wednesday’s morning skate saying Chorney had hit a “rough patch” of late and that Ness has played both sides previously.
Despite a reprieve from the press box, however, both Trotz and Ness know he has to play better going forward.
“There's a couple games where you'd like to see his skating stand out more and I think early in the first couple ones you didn't see that,” Trotz said. “…I really like Ness when he's come up in the middle of the season both years where he's got his game really in order and he's getting lots of minutes and he's flying around, we bring him up and it's slower. It's early in the season so he'll get there. I think if you talk to Nesser he could be a little bit better as well.”
“I think there's another level for me,” Ness said. “I think I can play better and contribute more offensively and just continue to be reliable as much as possible and continue to get better and better every game. That's always the goal I think throughout the season and it's a challenge, but it's a fun one.”
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Step one will be taking fewer penalties, something Ness has not struggled with in the past.
“I don't even know if I had five penalties all year last year so it's not something I'm worried about,” he said. “I'm just going to keep playing hard and as physical as possible and hopefully cut down on the minutes obviously.”
While the Capitals may have earned five of a possible six points through their first three games, the defensive struggles have been troubling. With Madison Bowey playing in Hershey waiting for his crack at the NHL, Ness, Djoos and Chorney have to justify their spots on the Caps’ roster.
Ness and Chorney got the first chance on the third pair and they struggled. Now we will see what Djoos can do and if Ness can handle playing on the right.