Capitals

Regan: Breaking down the Capitals' opening night roster

Capitals

After some roster moves on Tuesday, the Capitals announced their opening night roster in preparation for Wednesday's game against the New York Rangers.

This year's training camp brought with it a bit more intrigue than normal for a team that has spent the last few years in Stanley Cup contention. While most seasons, the roster looked fairly well set coming into camp, this year there were a number of spots up of grabs and the final roster looks a bit different than perhaps many anticipated.

The roster has the maximum of 23 players not including Nicklas Backstrom who was placed on long-term injured reserve on Tuesday. By placing him on LTIR, the Caps have cleared up a significant amount of cap space for now. When Backstrom is ready to return, however, the team will suddenly have to go through some significant roster shuffling in order to fit under the cap again.

Here's a look at the Caps' opening roster with its projected lines.

Offense

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson

Anthony Mantha - Lars Eller - Daniel Sprong

Conor Sheary - Connor McMichael/Hendrix Lapierre - T.J. Oshie

Carl Hagelin - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway

Beck Malenstyn

Nicklas Backstrom (injured)

McMichael has been practicing on the top line, with Ovechkin dealing with a lower-body injury, but this is what the lineup will most likely look like when Ovechkin is back in.

The big story is on the third line where McMichael and Lapierre will likely rotate at center. The loss of Backstrom obviously is a major hole on the roster at a position in which the team was considered particularly thin in terms of depth, but the emergence of both of the team's top prospects in the preseason could be coming at the perfect time. Preseason and regular season hockey are two different levels of play, however, so all eyes will be on the young prospects to see just how they handle the NHL game.

 

In terms of goal scoring, Washington will continue to rely on Ovechkin to fill the net. As the team continues to get older, however, the younger players will need to step up and contribute. Kuznetsov needs to have a bounce-back season and the team needs Mantha and Sprong to be big-time contributors on the scoresheet.

Defense

Martin Fehervary - John Carlson

Dmitry Orlov - Nick Jensen

Trevor van Riemsdyk - Justin Schultz

Matt Irwin

One of the big competitions coming into camp was Fehervary vs. Michal Kempny for a spot on the left side of the defense. Fehervary won that job emphatically with an impressive preseason that showed he is clearly ready to make the full-time jump to the NHL. Carlson and Orlov both looked very good in the preseason as well.

The blue line, however, still comes with question marks. After some tough seasons to start his Capitals tenure, Jensen looked great in 2021 playing with Zdeno Chara. What can we expect from him without a future Hall-of-Fame defensive partner? Peter Laviolette has also raved all camp long about van Riemsdyk, a player who was limited to 20 games last season. He will now go from depth player to everyday player and he will do it playing on the left, his non-shooting side.

While Kempny was reassigned to Hershey, don't forget about him completely. If he is able to get back up to speed, the Caps will definitely be interested in trying to get him back to Washington, assuming the team can figure out how to do it under the salary cap.

Goalies

Ilya Samsonov

Vitek Vanecek

Goaltending was a major question mark for the Caps last season and they return the exact same goalie combo for 2021-22.

It's prove-it time for Samsonov who was given a one-year $2 million contract in the offseason. The size, the athleticism and the skill are all there, it's just a question of putting it all together on the ice and staying focused mentally off of it.

Vanecek was a huge factor in saving the team's season last year when Samsonov missed a month with COVID-19. He's a good back-up and a decent 1B, but for this team to be successful, it will need its top goalie to play like a No. 1. This goes both ways, however, as I think Samsonov needs to be treated like a No. 1 as well. Splitting starts every other game is not going to cut it when Samsonov's ceiling is clearly higher. Let him string three, four, five starts together and see if he can handle a heavier load. You've got to see if he can be a No. 1 and splitting starts just won't help the team find that out.