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Pheonix Copley is back from injury and that's good news for the Caps' goalie depth

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Pheonix Copley is back from injury and that's good news for the Caps' goalie depth

Highly-regarded goaltending prospect Pheonix Copley is expected to be back in the nets for Hershey on Friday when the Bears play in Rochester.

That, obviously, is good news for Capitals’ minor league affiliate. But it’s important for the big club, too.

Why?

Because for the past few weeks, Washington was an injury or illness to Braden Holtby or Philipp Grubauer away from being forced to dip deep into their system for help at the game’s most important position.

RELATED: CAPS' PENALTY KILL WASN'T GREAT BUT GOT THE JOB DONE

Now—assuming everything goes smoothly for Copley in his return—the Caps will have their No. 3 netminder healthy and ready for duty in the event there’s a need.

Capitals Coach Barry Trotz used the word “comfort” when asked about what Copley’s return means for Washington.

“It means we have a good third goalie,” Trotz said after Friday’s optional practice in Arlington.  “We had been using guys that were really [No.] four or five on the depth chart playing in Hershey. So an injury to us, or God forbid we had two injuries, we’d be into our five and six, really.”

“And that,” he cracked, “is even deeper than Vegas.”

Trotz, of course, was referring to the Golden Knights, who have seen three goalies go down with injuries in the season’s first 12 games.

That’s an extreme example. But it’s not uncommon for teams to need their No. 3 goalie at some point during a grueling 82-game regular season.  

And now the Caps can breathe a bit easier knowing that their No. 3 is back in action.

Copley originally suffered a significant groin injury while playing for the Bears in the postseason last spring. After a summer of rehab, the 25-year-old arrived in Washington’s training camp healthy. He made three appearances in the preseason, in fact, and played well.

Upon returning to Hershey, though, Copley aggravated the original injury and was advised to rest and rehab. He ended up missing about a month, including the Bears’ first nine games.

“We figured out what’s wrong…Obviously, he’s healed up if he’s going in tonight,” Trotz said.

MORE CAPITALS: CAPS' TOP PROSPECT REPORTEDLY SUFFERS CONCUSSION IN KHL GAME

If Copley feels good against the Americans and doesn’t face too heavy a workload, he could start Sunday’s game against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.  

Copley’s return wasn’t the only good news on Friday for the Caps’ goaltending situation, though. No. 4 goalie Vitek Vanecek, who suffered a lower-body injury in a preseason game with the Capitals and has been sidelined since, has been reassigned the ECHL Stingrays. If all goes well, he could rejoin Hershey as the Bears’ No. 2 goalie very soon.

“Hopefully we get that in order because it gives us comfort,” Trotz said. “Obviously, we’ve got Grubi, who is healthy, but it gives us comfort because things happen quickly as you’ve seen around the league.” 

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NHL Power Rankings: The Caps are singing the bye week blues

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NHL Power Rankings: The Caps are singing the bye week blues

A Capitals team that struggles after lengthy breaks is now indeed struggling after its return from the bye week. Since returning on Thursday against the New Jersey Devils, the Caps have lost three straight games including two at home with only two points to show for their efforts.

Heading into the bye, Washington looked like one of the top teams in the NHL with 14 wins in 19 games. Now, they have taken a step back and are working at returning to the level they were playing just a week ago.

CHECK OUT THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

Oh, and to make matters worse, the Caps do not play again until Thursday and then are off for the All-Star break.

It's Jan. 22 and Washington has only two more games this month. Even if they do figure things out on Thursday against the Florida Panthers, they will have to figure it out all over again when they return from the All-Star break on Jan. 31 against the Philadelphia Flyers.

So where do the Caps rank after their recent slide and how far could they fall if they do not right the ship? Find out here in this week's NHL Power Rankings!

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Think Jakub Vrana's ice time shows Barry Trotz was unhappy with his play? Think again

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Think Jakub Vrana's ice time shows Barry Trotz was unhappy with his play? Think again

It was a bit of a surprise to see Jakub Vrana in the lineup against the Philadelphia Flyers. On Saturday in practice, Barry Trotz mixed his lines up and it appeared that Vrana would be the odd-man out. On Sunday, however, when the team took to the ice for warmups prior to the game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Vrana lined up on the fourth line with Jay Beagle and Devante Smith-Pelly.

Did the near scratch spark Vrana to more production? Not exactly.

RELATED: HERE'S WHY THE CAPS LOST TO PHILADELPHIA

Vrana played a career-low 6:25 against the Flyers. He had zero shot attempts or hits. There were only two stats on his stat line from the final box score: One giveaway and one drawn penalty.

Despite that, Trotz was complimentary of the 21-year-old forward following the game.

"What I like about Jake, he competed," Trotz said. "I know he doesn't have the minutes tonight, but he competed and that's what the message was. I met with him this morning and a little bit on the ice the other day and I just said the skill doesn't come out unless that level of desperation and compete is there night in, night out and then you'll have production. He didn't get a lot of ice time, but I was happy with his effort."

Trotz said Vrana's ice time was low because he the team was "hard matching" later in the game against Philadelphia. It was not because of how he played.

MORE CAPITALS: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FOR CAPS-FLYERS

But ultimately, the key is to get Vrana producing again and the fourth line is not the best place to spark that. Vrana has only one point in his last 12 games which is why it seemed to make sense that he would be a healthy scratch on Sunday. For a player with his offensive skill, it is harder for him to make an impact on that back line given the limited minutes and the more defensive role. Ultimately he has to play in the top-nine in order to reach his potential on a game by game basis.

If Trotz wanted to spark more compete and more effort from Vrana, the move to the fourth line may have done the trick. But did he play well enough to warrant moving back into the top-nine? That's the ultimate question.