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Backstrom returns as Capitals' second-line center


Backstrom returns as Capitals' second-line center

Once described by Braden Holtby as “the heartbeat of our team,” Nicklas Backstrom confirmed today he will be in the lineup tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes. It will be his first game with the Capitals since undergoing hip surgery on May 27.  

“It’s nice to be back,” said Backstrom, who will center a second line with left wing Marcus Johansson and right wing Justin Williams. “It’s tough to sit and watch the games from the side. It’s fun to be in.

“We actually decided this a couple days ago. I’ve been feeling good and no setbacks. I’ve been trying my best to get back in the lineup as fast as possible with no rush. It’s been working out well so hopefully it will be a good one tonight.”

Backstrom, 27, led the NHL in assists last season with 60. He played in all 82 games and 14 playoff games but decided that if he hoped to continue to play at a high level he would need to repair his hip.

“I felt like it had to be done,” Backstrom said. “Five months after, I’m really happy about it. It feels better out there. Sometimes you’ve got to go through it.”

Trotz kept the first line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie and the third line of Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson intact, while creating a new fourth line of Brooks Laich, Chandler Stephenson and Andre Burakovsky.

“Marcus is skating really well and he’s played with Backy before,” Trotz said, “and with Williams he’s another veteran guy and I think they can complement each other with the way Backy thinks and moves the puck.”

Williams, who has no goals and two assists in his first three games, said he’s excited to play with Backstrom for the first time in his career.

“I know I’m going to get a lot of chances and a lot of looks and hopefully we’ll play with the puck a lot tonight,” he said. “I think people short-change his ability to score because of the amount of assists he has every year, but he can put the puck in the net as well. He’s itching to go and I want to get him off on a good foot and myself going as well.”

Trotz said there are no ice time limitations for Backstrom, saying he’ll monitor his energy level throughout the game.

“Nick may get to a point where he gets a little fatigued,” Trotz said, “and then I could put Andre back there if I want to.”

Burakovsky, 20, had just one assist in his first three games while centering Johansson and Williams.

“He won’t be on the fourth line too long,” Trotz said.

With Backstrom and Stephenson in the lineup, center Michael Latta and right wing Stan Galiev, along with defenseman Nate Schmidt, are expected to be healthy scratches tonight.

[RELATED: Ovechkin gives explanation for missing Sharks game]


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Kuznetsov to be evaluated Saturday after leaving Islanders game with "upper body" issue

Kuznetsov to be evaluated Saturday after leaving Islanders game with "upper body" issue

The Capitals may have won the game Friday against the New York Islanders, but now they will wait to see if they also suffered a significant loss.

Kuznetsov left the game in the third period after taking a slash from Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey which sent him sliding head-first into the boards. The team labeled the issue as “upper body” when it was announced he would not return to the game.

Head coach Barry Trotz was tight-lipped afterward on Kuznetsov’s status.

“They're going to re-evaluate him tomorrow and we'll have some clarity hopefully tomorrow,” he said.


You can see the play here:

When Kuznetsov is first slashed he immediately reacts. His feet then catch the stick of goalie Jaroslav Halak which sends him tripping and sliding hard into the boards. He sat on the ice for several minutes afterward and was looked at by the trainer before getting to his feet and slowly making his way to the locker room.

When asked after the game what he felt about the slash, Trotz said only, “Hockey play.”

One of the Capitals’ biggest strengths as a team is their depth down the middle. Any injury to a center, considering it is arguably the most important skating position on the ice, would be significant. An injury to the team’s top-line center would be even more costly.

Kuznetsov leads the team with 28 assists and ranks second in both goals (21) and points (69).

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3 stars of the game: Caps win brutal rematch to sweep home-and-home with Islanders

3 stars of the game: Caps win brutal rematch to sweep home-and-home with Islanders

The Caps rocked the green in warmups, the red for the game and left a bit black and blue after a brutal 6-3 win over the New York Islanders.

Based on how things went in Brooklyn on Thursday, odds were that there would be some bad blood when the two teams met Washington on Friday. One night after giving up seven goals, the Islanders gave up another six in Washington and frustrations over a rough season boiled over all game long.

Ross Johnston was ejected for continuing to fight Tom Wilson even after the referees intervened, both teams combined for 56 PIMs and Evgeny Kuznetsov left the game in the second period after a slash from Thomas Hickey as he went headfirst into the boards.

The sting of the rough night was mitigated somewhat, however, by the 6-3 score as the Caps won their fourth straight.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Alex Chiasson: Playing in his first game since March 8, Chiasson made the most of his opportunity with a three-point night. Jakub Vrana did the legwork as he drove the net with the puck. Jaroslav Halak stuck out his stick catching Vrana which spun the netminder around and out of the crease. Chiasson came up behind for the easy layup.

He would repay the favor with an assist for Vrana's goal later in the third. Chiasson's first assist on the night came in the second period as his initial shot was saved, but he stayed in the face of Halak long enough to prevent him from making the save on Matt Niskanen's goal.

2. Nicklas Backstrom: When things were getting ugly, Backstrom made the Islanders pay with a power play goal on the two-man advantage.

After Johnston lost his marbles and Cal Clutterbuck was called for interference on Oshie, the Capitals needed to take advantage and put the Islanders away or watch New York build momentum. That was the critical juncture of the game. Backstrom also added an assist on the two-point night.

3. Braden Holtby: The recent struggles of Holtby have been well documented. After yielding the crease to Philipp Grubauer the last four games, Holtby got the start on Friday and played very well in the winning effort. The defense in front of him certainly helped allowing only 13 shots in the first two periods, but the Islanders were buzzing in the third period. New York battled back to make it 5-3 and Mathew Barzal had a breakaway opportunity with a chance to cut the deficit to one. Holtby made the save to deny Barzal and shut the door on the comeback attempt.

In all, Holtby turned aside 22 of the 25 shots he faced.