As the Capitals return to the ice tonight against the Montreal Canadiens at Verizon Center (6:30 pregame on CSN), here are five things worth watching in the coming weeks:
When will Brooks Orpik play again? The Capitals’ rugged defenseman has not played since suffering a lower body injury on Nov. 10, a stretch of 19 games. The Caps have gone 15-2-2 without the 35-year-old defenseman, who has not skated with the team since leaving the ice in frustration during a practice on Dec. 7.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz has repeatedly said there is no timetable for Orpik’s return, saying rest, not surgery, has been prescribed for Orpik, who has three years and $16.5 million remaining on his five-year, $27.5 million contract.
Can Braden Holtby keep this up? Every NHL goalie goes through a rough patch during a season and although he’s gone 21-4-1 to start the season, it’s possible Holtby already has gone through his.
Holtby was shaky in back-to-back starts against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Dec. 18 and New York Rangers on Dec. 20, getting pulled after allowing three goals on 12 shots against the Lightning and starting the Rangers game by allowing three goals on 15 shots.
Trotz admitted he considered yanking Holtby for a second straight game against the Rangers but the goalie and his teammates pulled their game together and rallied for a 7-3 win.
Holtby is on pace to win an NHL record 52 games but the Capitals would need to play Presidents’ Trophy hockey the rest of the season for that to happen. If there is kryptonite in Holtby’s game it is his struggles after long layoffs. He is 4-4-0 when having more than two days between games.
Will Nicklas Backstrom be an All-Star? With 31 points in 30 games, Backstrom leads the Caps in scoring and has recorded more points (603 in 607 games) than anyone in his NHL draft class of 2006.
“I don’t know what people have been watching for the number of years who vote on the all-star, but this guy is outstanding,” Trotz said.
Trotz compared Backstrom to Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron, a three-time Selke Trophy winner as the NHL’s top two-way forward.
“They’re complete players, they’re fantastic on the draws, in every situation, on both sides of the puck and when the game is on the line,” Trotz said.
“That is, to me, why he should be either getting some all-star recognition or at least some Selke recognition for sure. He’s a fantastic player.”
While that is true, Backstrom is still a long shot to make his first NHL All-Star team because fans are more likely to vote for perennial East All-Stars Sidney Crosby (22 points, minus-6), Evgeny Malkin (30 points, minus-2) and John Tavares (25 points, minus-2). Add in the face that Evgeny Kuznetsov will steal votes away from Backstrom and you could see the 28-year-old Swede snubbed again.
Will the Caps make a deal before Feb. 29? Yes, but probably not until very close to that date. If Orpik’s health remains an issue the Caps will definitely try to upgrade their blue line.
If not, they could turn their attention to third-line center, where they could show some interest in players like Arizona Coyotes 6-foot-6 center Martin Hanzal, 28, who has one year and $3.1 million remaining on his contract, or Toronto’s 6-foot-1 Tyler Bozak, 29, who has two years and $8.5 million remaining on his deal.
(Note: The NHL’s holiday roster freeze, which began at 11:59 p.m. on Saturday,
December 19, concludes at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, December 28. Players can be moved to and from NHL teams and their affiliates, but players cannot be traded during that period.)
When will Alex Ovechkin reach 500? The Caps’ 30-year-old captain is eight goals shy of becoming the 43rd player in NHL history to score 500 goals. Knowing the way Ovechkin can get on a run, he could hit his milestone anytime in the month of January.
In his career Ovechkin has scored a goal one in every 1.6 games, which would put his milestone goal somewhere in the middle of the month. Like maybe Jan. 17 at home against the Rangers or Tuesday, Jan 19 in Columbus against the Blue Jackets.