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Trotz updates injury situation, talks line tweaks ahead of Pens' visit

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USA TODAY Sports

Trotz updates injury situation, talks line tweaks ahead of Pens' visit

After taking a day off, the Caps returned to the ice Thursday morning with some new faces and tweaked forward lines ahead of Friday’s showdown with the Penguins.

The big news, of course, was the much anticipated return of Matt Niskanen, Brett Connolly and Tyler Graovac to practice. Niskanen was in a non-contact jersey; Conolly and Graovac were full participants.

Rookie defenseman Madison Bowey also returned after being a late scratch Tuesday night in Buffalo with a lower-body injury.

RELATED: CRAIG LAUGHLIN: BROADCASTER ... BRAWLER? 

Here’s how Coach Barry Trotz had his players lined up:

Forwards
Stephenson – Backstrom – Oshie
Ovechkin – Kuznetsov – Smith-Pelly
Vrana – Eller – Wilson
O’Brien – Beagle – Chiasson
Extras: Connolly, Graovac and Walker

Defense
Djoos – Carlson
Orpik – Bowey
Orlov – Chorney
Extra: Niskanen, Ness

MORE CAPITALS: TOM WILSON DIDN'T WANT TO FIGHT? REALLY?

So, yeah, lots to catch up on. Let’s begin with the injuries:

  • Niskanen said he felt good in his first skate back, but also indicated that he needs a little more time before being game-ready. He’s missed the past 11 contests.
  • Connolly confirmed that he has missed the past six games with the first diagnosed concussion of his career. He also said he’s been cleared but isn’t sure if he’ll return vs. the Penguins.
  • Connolly, who has one goal and one assist in 10 games, said he used the time on the shelf to hit the reset button on the start to his season. “It’s been a long couple of weeks,” he said. “I’ve had a couple of weeks to reset and recap my first nine [plus] games of the season. Hopefully I can come back, start fresh and have a strong game right away and build from there.”
  • I didn’t get a chance to catch up with Graovac, who is also working his way back from an upper body injury. He was not assigned to a line, either, which leads me to believe he won’t face the Penguins.
  • Bowey told me he’s good to go for the Pittsburgh game. It’ll be the rookie’s first game against the Penguins.
  • Trotz said the players returning to practice will ratchet up the pressure on guys who are on the bubble or aren’t performing. “We have five lines and eight D,” Trotz said. “It should signal a lot of bells to a lot of guys in that room. There’s a lot of competition for the 23 spots now. When everybody gets healthy, we’re going to have to make some decisions. So if you’re in the lineup, you got to make sure you bring your ‘A’ stuff to stay in the lineup because the competition is back. That’s good for any hockey team.”
  • The change to the forward lines is Chandler Stephenson moving up into the top-six and Jakub Vrana dropping to the third line. Stephenson, obviously, is pumped about his recent career trajectory, which has seen him go from waived to the AHL to the Caps' third line and now to the left side of Nicklas Backstrom's line. “It’s been quite the experience,” he said after practice. “With him and Osh, you just give them a target and they’ll find you. So you have to be ready and always bear down with those guys.”
  • Trotz said the move was made simply because he’s looking to spark the Backstrom line. Backstrom has no goals in nine games and no points in seven. Oshie, meanwhile, has one goal in the past 11 games.
  • Trotz also indicated that Stephenson’s promotion is more of an experiment—for now, anyway. “I think Chandler has played okay,” Trotz said. “I don’t think he was as good as he was the first couple of games—I’ll be honest about that. I just think he might be a good complement going forward here. So we just tried that in practice today. If you watched last game, we probably used five different people on the left side with Backy. We’re looking for a little spark here.”
  • And there was this: hockey players introducing their young ones to the game. For 20-month-old Turner Chorney, it was his first time on the ice. 

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Best 2017 Black Friday gift ideas for the Capitals fan in your life

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Best 2017 Black Friday gift ideas for the Capitals fan in your life

Are you looking for the hot holiday gift for the Capitals fan in your life? Well, look no further because we have the best ideas right here. 

Nothing looks better under the tree than red, white and blue gifts. And the best part about hockey season being in progress, your friends and family (don't forget to treat yourself, too) can use these gifts right now.

We've complied the top-ten must have Caps items for you to put in your shopping cart Friday.

1. Caps' Greatest Plays Coasters

Price: $50

Where to buy: Amazon

Why they'll love it: This set of four slate coasters showcase some of the greatest plays in Caps history. Each coaster includes player movements, date, score, and relevant play details, in addition to being super stylish.

2. Caps Ugly Christmas Sweater

Price: $69.99

Where to buy: Shop.NHL.com

Why they'll love it: They'll be the talk of the ugly sweater party with this one. The knit sweater is not only midweight, so they can wear it in comfort, but it also has the Caps logo woven into it. They'll be sure to stand out at the holiday party in addition to being warm and toasty.

3. Hockey Puck Phone Charger

Price: $29.99

Where to buy: Shop.NHL.com

Why they'll love it: Well first of all, it's cool. Second of all, everyone needs a phone charger so why not have a Capitals one and be the envy of all your hockey friends?

4. Pet Leash

Price: $14.99

Where to buy: Shop.NHL.com

Why they'll love it: This gift is great for both a friend or family member AND man's best friend. The bright red chain with embroidered Caps logo with certainly be a hit at the local dog park.

5. Caps Flask

Price: $54.98

Where to buy: Amazon

Why they'll love it: The holiday's and being around family can cause people to drink, so why not do it in style. This stainless steal flask has a hand-stitched needlepoint design and holds 6 fluid ounces of your favorite beverage.

6. Tie

Price: $18.74

Where to buy: Shop.NHL.com

Why they'll love it: Rock The Red everyday at work with this Capitals woven poly check tie. It will go great with a black or blue suit, not to mention they'll be the envy of everyone in the office.

7. Personalized Caps Wine Glass

Price: $22.49

Where to buy: Shop.NHL.com

Why they'll love it: Your friends and family will love to sit down and watch the Caps while drinking a glass of their favorite wine in this personalized Caps wine glass. Not only does it incorporate sophistication and hockey, but they'll no longer have to worry about someone stealing there drink.

8. Fidget Spinner

Price: $3.99

Where to buy: Shop.NHL.com

Why they'll love it: Get in on the trend with this Caps Fidget Spinner. Not only does it relieve stress, but it will keep the children (or adults) in your family occupied.

9. Camo Beanie

Price: $17.99

Where to buy: Shop.NHL.com

Why they'll love it: Keep your loved ones warm with a camo beanie. Camo is so hot right now and it will keep your loved ones heads warm while watching Ovi and company at Capital One Arena. 

10. Custom Built Cornhole Set 

Price: $195

Where to buy: Etsy

Why they'll love it: These handmade cornhole set is made to order and will be the envy of everyone at the beach or their next tailgate. With purchase, they'll receive a free set of corn bags and a free carrying case for the boards.

11. fuboTV Subscription

Price: $19.99/month for 2 months

Where to buy: fubotv.com

Why they'll love it: What better gift than the games themselves? Perfect for the cord-cutting Capitals fan on your list, fuboTV offers 80 streaming channels from sports to news to movies and more. Watch on all of your favorite devices including Roku, Apple TV, Amazon FireTV and AndroidTV or take it anywhere with the fuboTV app, available for both Android and iOS. If you're on the go, take advantage of fuboTV's cloud-based DVR service to record your favorite programs and watch them wherever you'd like. Even better? There are no hidden fees or long-term contracts and you can cancel anytime.

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Is it time to reunite the Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie line?

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USA TODAY Sports

Is it time to reunite the Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie line?

The Caps are struggling of late and the top six is a big reason why. Washington has lost three of its last four games and has been outscored in those four games 17-9, but the top six’s problems have been lingering for longer than just these past four games.

Nicklas Backstrom has only two even strength points in his last 13 games and no goals since Oct. 14. T.J. Oshie is producing well on the power play, but he is also struggling five-on-five with one goal and four assists in his past 17 games.

Likewise, the second line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Devante Smith-Pelly is also struggling. They have not scored an even-strength point in six games.

A team cannot be successful if its top players are not producing offensively. Do these recent struggles show that it is time for Washington to go back to the Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie line?

RELATED: HOW DID JOHNNY GAUDREAU GET SO WIDE OPEN?

Despite their past success, the trio has not started together at any point this season. Head coach Barry Trotz denied on Tuesday that he has any hesitancy towards putting those three back together and pointed out that he did actually use that line in the team’s loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

“In Colorado I tried to do that,” Trotz said, “Put Ovi, Osh and Backstrom against their second line and they allowed that and they didn't get any production so I'm trying it. Their top line outplayed our top line.”

When asked why he had not used the line from the start of a game, Trotz essentially dismissed the question saying, “Just don’t feel like it.”

Despite Trotz’s denial, there does seem to be some hesitancy from him to go back to a line that has been incredibly successful in the past. Backstrom and Ovechkin have been on the ice five-on-five for a grand total of 16:46 this season. In addition to Oshie who has been his consistent linemate, Backstrom has spent more even-strength ice time with Andre Burakovsky, Jakub Vrana, Chandler Stephenson and Tom Wilson than he has with Ovechkin.

Why?

One reason is Trotz remains unconcerned with Backstrom’s slump. While he may not be generating points, the chances are still there.

“Against Minnesota [Backstrom] could have had a hat trick and they're not going in easy for him,” Trotz said. “I think you have more concern when you're not getting any chances than when you are getting chances. When you're getting chances, you're obviously getting the good spots, you're doing lots of good things, they're just not going in for you. When you're not getting any chances and any looks, then it gets frustrating for you.”

Another reason is Backstrom’s defensive responsibilities. He is one of the team’s top shutdown forwards and defense is not a strong part of Ovechkin’s game. It is hard to put Backstrom in shut down situations if his line is not suited for those responsibilities.

Let’s say the Caps do unite Ovechkin-Backstrom-Oshie. What would the rest of the forward lines look like?

Here’s a possible projection:

Stephenson – Kuznetsov – Vrana
Connolly – Eller – Wilson
Smith-Pelly – Beagle – Chiasson

MORE CAPITALS: JAY BEAGLE GIVES THE DIRT ON WHAT BARRY TROTZ IS LIKE AS A COACH FOR THE PLAYERS

You can make your own lineup, but you can see there’s not a whole lot of depth behind that top line. This team is not nearly as deep as it has been in years past and the forward lines look even thinner when you put Ovechkin-Backstrom-Oshie all together on the top. This would be an incredibly top-heavy lineup and it is hard to find success that way.

Then again, they top-six is not having much success now.

Oshie admitted after practice Thursday he would like to see that line reunited, but he remains confident in Trotz’s lineup choices.

“Whatever [Trotz] thinks,” Oshie said. “My game doesn't change much from playing with one player to the next. We've played together at times this year, we've had a couple shifts together so I think he's just still trying to see what works and what he can use. I think we know that we can have success playing us three together. Whatever the lines are is just fine with me.”