WASHINGTON, D.C. - When considering total salaries, a line making a combined $9.375 million per season - $46.5 million when adding up the total amount of each contract in its entirety - sounds like a first line. For the Washington Capitals, however, that amount of money is not going to the first line. It's not going to the second line, either.
Based on its play in Saturday's 4-3 season-opening overtime victory over the Carolina Hurricanes, the third line of Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich and Joel Ward hope to prove throughout the season that they are worth every cent.
"It's three guys playing kind of similar hockey," Chimera said. "I thought we did a good job controlling the puck and we scored, which is a bonus. Anytime you score against [Hurricanes captain Eric] Staal and those guys is a bonus."
Chimera, Laich and Ward were thrown together during training camp and were the only line that remained constant throughout. Laich, who signed a six-year, $27 million extension this summer, spent the last few seasons as a winger instead of his natural position of center. Ward signed a four-year, $12 million contract with the Caps on the first day of free agency and was brought in to provide tenacity and timely scoring. Meanwhile, Chimera has spent most of his time in Washington on the third line. All three players are capable of throwing their bodies around and scoring, so putting them together seemed like a natural fit.
"All three of them are hard workers," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "They're not, like, cute players, so it gets easier to come together. They're just like a 'meat and potatoes' line."
Every member of the third line factored onto the scoresheet Saturday. Chimera's second period goal - assisted by Ward for his 100th career point - gave the Caps a 2-1 lead in the second period.
"It's no secret - we're just going to try to get on the forecheck the best we can," Ward said. "We're just excited to get on the ice and feed off the crowd as much as we can and try to create chances."
Later, Laich's power play goal put the Caps ahead 3-2 late in the third period before Jussi Jokinen tied the game to send it to overtime. Not only that, but the third line finished with a combined plus-1 while matching up against the Hurricanes' top line of Staal, Jeff Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu.
"A lot of those times, those top lines, they don't want to play in their own end," Chimera said. "They want to be offensive and get going. We felt we did a good job. We're three big guys that can keep the puck down low and create some chances for ourselves."
Boudreau has a tendency to shuffle his forward lines around regularly, but based on training camp and the success they had Saturday, the third line will continue to work together. Just don't call it a checking line.
"Our line is not just a checking line," Laich said. "We might have an assignment, but we talk it about amongst ourselves and we can still score. I think we should be a tough line to play against."