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Caps' Tyler Graovac is the silver lining in an ugly loss to the Blues

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Caps' Tyler Graovac is the silver lining in an ugly loss to the Blues

Barry Trotz didn’t like a whole lot about Friday’s 4-0 preseason loss to the Blues.

One thing he didn’t mind so much, however, was the play of 6 foot 5 center Tyler Graovac.

The fourth liner had a handful of scoring chances and finished the game tied for the team lead in shots on goal with four. The 24-year-old also recorded a couple of hits, won nine of 11 draws and saw a prominent role penalty kill.  

“He’s had two pretty good games,” Trotz said of Graovac, who made his debut against the Devils earlier this week. “We’re getting to know him as a player and a person.”

RELATED: CAPS DEFENSE OVERMATECHED IN LOSS TO BLUES

Graovac was acquired via trade from Minnesota in June so that Washington could protect Lars Eller in the expansion draft. Given that the Caps already had four NHL centers, it was believed that Graovac would eventually end up in AHL Hershey, despite a one-way contract that will pay him $650,000 this season.

That thinking, however, might need to change after his eye-opening performance against St. Louis.

“He’s competing,” Trotz said. “He’s a big man, he’s skating well, he’s creating some things. There’s a lot of good things that he’s done. His faceoffs have been good. We said there are opportunities and he’s trying to grab one.”

Although Graovac is a center by trade, the Brampton, Ontario native said he’d be comfortable skating on the wing if that’s what it takes to win a job.

“Last year in Minnesota, I played right wing, left wing. I really see myself as a forward,” he said. “I’m just trying to show all aspects of my game really. [Penalty kill]. My defensive side. Tonight, I tried to show a little more offense. Speed. I’m going to show them everything I’ve got to the best that I can.”

Graovac said he was playing softball when he found out that the Wild, which had selected him in the seventh round of the 2011 draft, had dealt him to the Caps for a fifth round pick. Once the shock wore off, he came to the realization that a change of scenery might turn out to be good for him. He had split the 2016-17 season between the Wild and the minors.

“It was bittersweet,” he said. “I was with Minnesota since I was 18, but I was thrilled that Washington wanted me. To go from a top-place team in the West to a top-place team in the East that’s closer to home…it was a great change for me.”

Graovac heard the reports that the Caps made the move with an eye on the expansion draft. It’s also likely he’s noticed that his name is often absent from media reports about the youngsters who are vying for jobs in Washington.

But he hasn’t allowed any of that to deter him.

“That’s the vision,” he said of claiming a spot on the 23-man opening night roster. “I try to tell myself that every morning. You put a picture on your wall and you go for it. I try not to look into too many things. Washington wanted me for a reason and I’m really trying to show, ‘Wow, we got this kid and he can do a couple of things here for us and actually make us better.’”

MORE CAPITALS: OVECHKIN'S SURPRISE PUTS A SMILE ON KIDS' FACES

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Caps' Barry Trotz forced to change up defense lineups

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Caps' Barry Trotz forced to change up defense lineups

Lars Eller did not practice on Monday, and coach Barry Trotz shuffled his injury-depleted defense corps.

Here’s how everyone lined up:

Forwards

Burakovsky – Backstrom – Oshie

Ovechkin – Kuznetsov – Vrana

Connolly – Graovac – Wilson

Smith-Pelly – Beagle – Chiasson

Walker

Defense

Orpik – Bowey

Djoos – Carlson

Orlov – Chorney

Ness

Goalies

Holtby

Grubauer

RELATED: Caps destroyed by Flyers in lopsided road loss

Some notes, quotes and observations from KCI:

  • Trotz said Eller showed up sick and was sent home to recover and avoid spreading whatever he’s got. Trotz also isn’t sure whether the veteran center will be able to suit up against Toronto on Tuesday. “I don’t know,” he said. “I can’t answer that right now. We’ll see where his energy level is.”

 

  • The coaching staff shuffled the D-pairs with speedy Toronto coming to town. But Trotz also cautioned not to read too much into the tandems, since they’re likely to change throughout Tuesday’s game. Trotz even hinted that a final decision on which six D-men will suit up had not yet been made. “They’re going to be shuffled from now until we get people back,” Trotz said, referring to the injured Matt Niskanen, who is week-to-week with an upper body injury. “There are pairs for practice. There are pairs for parts of games. It’ll be a little bit situational.”

 

  • If defenseman Taylor Chorney does get back into the lineup, he knows that he needs to make a positive impression after sitting out the last three games as a healthy scratch. “I’ve been through this quite a bit over the last couple of years, but at the same time you probably want to make a little bit of a statement,” he acknowledged. “So for me, if I do get the opportunity to play, it would be a big game.”  

 

  • Speaking of the Leafs, they’re off to a 4-1-0 start with Auston Matthews (5 goals, including two OT winners) leading the way. Overall, Toronto is averaging a league-leading 5.2 goals per game. As you might imagine, Trotz had a lot of praise for last season’s first round opponent in general and Matthews specifically. “If he was playing 20 years ago, we’d be saying he’s Mario Lemieux-like,” Trotz said. “He’s six-foot-[three]. He skates great. He’s got unbelievable hands. And a hockey I.Q. and he’s strong on the puck.”  

 

  • As Washington attempts to turn the page from Saturday’s 8-2 clunker in Philly, Trotz said one area he’d like to see shored up is the number of shots the Caps have been allowing. Through six games, they’re yielding 34.5 shots on goal per game (tied for ninth most). Last year, they allowed 27.8 (fourth best). “We’re not as structured defensively,” Trotz said. “We haven’t put as big an emphasis this year as we did last year. We’ve put a little more emphasis on trying to replace some of the goals that we lost. But right now we have to get a little more balance. …We have to get that back into balance; we practiced some of that today.”

 

  • As you may remember, Madison Bowey’s father, Will, jumped on the first flight out of British Columbia that he could find in the hopes of catching his son’s NHL debut Saturday night at Wells Fargo Center. As it turned out, though, he experienced a couple of travel delays and didn’t make it. Dad will, however, be in attendance Tuesday night.

 

MORE CAPS: Nicklas Backstrom shines among NHL's top stars

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Capitals' Nicklas Backstrom named one of NHL's 3 stars for standout week

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Capitals' Nicklas Backstrom named one of NHL's 3 stars for standout week

Nicklas Backstrom has been the Capitals’ best player so far this season, according to coach Barry Trotz. And he was recognized for his play on Monday when the NHL named him third star of the week.

No one had more points over the past week than the Caps’ star center, who racked up three goals and six assists in four games.

Trotz praised Backstrom for his point production — and his play on the other side of the puck.   

“He’s been really good,” Trotz said. “Nick has been all business. He’s playing very well. He’s been our best player, no question, with balance in his game. Nick’s balance in his game is really good—on my soap box again—and that’s what makes him one of the best two-way centermen in the National Hockey League. ”

RELATED: Andre Burakovsky's first NHL fight

Last season, Backstrom didn’t get his third goal until the 16th game (en route to a 23-goal campaign). In six games this season, the 29-year-old has three goals and eight helpers.

First star of the week was Winnipeg winger Nikolaj Ehlers (five goals, two assists), while Toronto center Auston Matthews (four goals, including two OT winners) received second star honors.

On Tuesday at Capital One Arena, it’ll be second star versus third star as Matthews and the Leafs take on on Backstrom’s Caps.

MORE CAPS: How the Caps flopped in Philly