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Battle for Caps roster spots nears climax

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Battle for Caps roster spots nears climax

Heading into their final two games of the exhibition season – tonight at home against the Boston Bruins and Sunday night at home against the New York Islanders (both on CSN) – the Capitals have some decisions to make at three key positions.

While Taylor Chorney appears to have the upper hand on Aaron Ness and Ryan Stanton in the hunt for the open spot as the Caps’ seventh defenseman, and goaltender Philipp Grubauer seems like the logical choice over Justin Peters as Braden Holby’s backup, the role of fourth-line center is down to a battle between Derek Roy, 32, and Chandler Stephenson, 21.

“I can tell you this,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “There’s tougher decisions this year than last year.”

Tonight against the Bruins, Roy will start the game centering a second line between left wing Marcus Johansson and right wing Justin Williams. But midway through the game, Trotz said he’ll insert Stephenson between Johansson and Williams so that he can get a fair assessment on both centers.

“That is the plan,” Trotz said. “They both know it. They’ve been told that. And now you know it. It is a true competition.”

In three preseason games Roy, who is on a professional tryout contract, has one goal on two shots, along with one assist, and is a plus-1 with four penalty minutes. Stephenson, who spent his first pro season with the AHL Hershey Bears last year, has no goals on seven shots and is also a plus-1 with no penalty minutes.

Roy, a veteran of 738 NHL games, recorded 12 goals and 20 assists in 72 games for the Predators and Oilers last season.  Stephenson, a third-round pick of the Caps in 2012 (77th overall), had seven goals and seven assists in 54 games with the Bears.

“I haven’t heard anything,” Roy said following Friday’s morning skate at Kettler. “I’m taking one day at a time and not looking ahead.

“I’m not thinking too much about what anybody’s saying. I just want to go out and play my game. I can’t worry about whatever I can’t control. That’s the way I’ve been my whole life. I want to do whatever it takes to make this hockey club.”

The number of games center Nicklas Backstrom will miss as he recovers from hip surgery could be the determining factor in whether the Caps start the season with Roy or Stephenson. Trotz said Friday the Caps are preparing to be without Backstrom until Nov. 1.

If Roy is signed to a contract the Caps would be committed to keeping him on their roster all season. If Stephenson makes the team the Caps could assign him to Hershey without putting him on waivers once Backstrom returns.

Roy said that after some early soreness this is the best he has felt in training camp and is out to prove he belongs on the Caps’ 23-man roster, which is due to the NHL by 5 p.m. on Tuesday.

“He didn’t get a contract this summer, so just be the best he can be at this point in his career,” Trotz said of Roy. “He’s done a good job and with a couple days off he’s fresh and healthy.”

With forward Zach Sill and defenseman Connor Carrick assigned to Hershey on Friday here’s a look at the Caps’ current depth chart by position:

LEFT WING – CENTER – RIGHT WING

Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson – Andre Burakovsky – Justin Williams

Jason Chimera – Jay Beagle – Tom Wilson

Brooks Laich – Derek Roy/Chandler Stephenson - Michael Latta

Liam O’Brien – Sean Collins - Stan Galiev

Injured: Nicklas Backstrom

LEFT DEFENSE - RIGHT DEFENSE

Brooks Orpik - John Carlson

Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen

Nate Schmidt - Dmitry Orlov

Ryan Stanton - Taylor Chorney - Aaron Ness

GOALTENDERS

Braden Holtby - Philipp Grubauer - Justin Peters

MORE CAPITALS: Capitals have date in mind for Backstrom's return

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Capitals place Taylor Chorney on waivers, which could signal something, or nothing

Capitals place Taylor Chorney on waivers, which could signal something, or nothing

When the Capitals acquired defenseman Michal Kempny on Monday, that put the team at the maximum of 23 players on the roster including eight defenseman.

Another move seemed likely and the Caps made it on Tuesday by placing veteran blueliner Taylor Chorney on waivers.

Teams now will have 24 hours to potentially claim Chorney. Should he clear at 12 p.m. on Wednesday, it is expected that he will be sent to the Hershey Bears of the AHL. Whether he is claimed or sent to Hershey, his entire $800,000 cap hit will no longer count against the Capitals' salary.

One important thing to note, however, is that placing Chorney on waivers was not required in order for Washington to remain under the salary cap.

Having eight defensemen would mean scratching two every game — assuming the team does not dress seven and after that failed experiment in last year's playoffs, why would they — which means it would be a struggle to make sure everyone gets consistent playing time in the final weeks of the season.

Perhaps placing Chorney on waivers is the team trying to get him more playing time to keep him sharp in case the team suffers injuries on the blue line and he is called upon in the playoffs.

Or perhaps it could mean something else.

RELATED: RANKING THE CAPITALS' TOP PROSPECTS

Chorney played on Feb. 15, but that was during the mentor's trip. Barry Trotz's policy for those trips is to get everyone in at least one of those two games. Before that, Chorney had not played since Jan. 2. It certainly seems like the team was comfortable with him being the designated No. 7 and was not all that concerned about getting him regular playing time before now.

When asked if the Kempny trade would mean any roster moves, Trotz said Monday that he was not sure and hinted that perhaps more moves could be coming from general manager Brian MacLellan. Moving Chorney's salary off the books does not clear much cap room, but it does clear some.

Perhaps MacLellan has another move up his sleeve before Monday's trade deadline.

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Michal Kempny excited to move from last place Chicago to first place Caps

Michal Kempny excited to move from last place Chicago to first place Caps

On Sunday, Michal Kempny was a defenseman struggling for a spot in the lineup for a team poised to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008. On Monday, he became potentially an important piece on the roster of the first place Capitals.

The last few days have been quite the whirlwind for Kempny who tallied an assist for Chicago on Saturday in a 7-1 blowout against what is now his current team. While the Blackhawks may have gotten the better of Washington that night, Kempny is excited about the postseason opportunity that now lies in front of him.

"Nobody knows what's happening in Chicago, but I'm really happy and I'm really glad that I can be here," Kempny told reporters on Tuesday after his first skate with the team. "There is option of play a playoff and I'm very happy for it."

RELATED: WHERE MICHAL KEMKPNY FITS IN THE CAPS' LINEUP

The 27-year-old Czech defenseman played only 31 games for the Blackhawks this season, but considering Washington's need to shore up its defense before the trade deadline and the team's willingness to give up a third-round pick to acquire him, it is likely he will have a much more significant role with the Caps.

"I thought that I [was] going to get more space on the ice and more ice time, but I didn't play more than half games," Kempny said of his decision to originally sign with Chicago. "But now I'm here and I'm really glad that I'm here. Washington is amazing city and great organization and I hope I will get a chance to access myself on the ice more than in Chicago."

Kempny will not play in Tuesday's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but did say he expects to play Thursday when the team visits the Florida Panthers.

When he does get into the lineup, it is unclear just how big a role he will play initially or how the team foresees utilizing him going forward. He is a left-shot defenseman and did tell reporters he prefers to play on that side. It seems unlikely the team would acquire him just to put him on his offside.

As of now, however, everything regarding his role in Washington is up in the air.

"I need everything settle down a little bit," he said. "New teammates, new people around here."

MORE CAPITALS: MEET MICHAL KEMPNY