Caps are playing well and making lineup decisions difficult


Heading into the season, the Capitals had a number of players battling to make the roster and to get into the lineup. Placing Nicklas Backstrom on long-term injured reserve provided some roster flexibility, but there are only so many spots in the lineup to go around.

Shuffling the lineup is something every coach has to handle, but coach Peter Laviolette's decisions are being made more difficult by one significant problem: Everyone is playing too well.

Many times these situations tend to solve themselves. You keep the lineup until someone has a bad game and then you make the switch. But what do you do when everything seems to be clicking?

"I'll just go game by game," Laviolette said.

Goaltending was one of the big stories coming into the season with both Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov returning. Vanecek has gotten three of the first four starts and has certainly played well enough to stay in the net going 2-0-1 with a .946 save percentage.

Samsonov, however, stepped in against one of the most talented teams in the league and got the win over the Colorado Avalanche. You don't want him sitting on the bench too long between starts.

With Backstrom out, there is a hole at center which has led to an opportunity for rookies Hendrix Lapierre and Connor McMichael. They have split the first four games. Lapierre scored his first NHL goal in his debut. McMichael has looked dangerous in both of his appearances and seemed to develop instant chemistry with T.J. Oshie and Conor Sheary.


"They both had their good moments inside the games where they did some good things and there's some things that we show them to teach them," Laviolette said, "But the fact that they've gone in and both have handled themselves really well is a positive for our team."

It would be hard to take McMichael out after how well he played, but, on the other side, considering how critical it is for young players to get as much playing time as possible, how do you keep Lapierre out?

On defense, Dennis Cholowski is still looking to make his Capitals debut after getting claimed off waivers on Oct. 14. But Washington has allowed only two goals at 5-on-5 in four games and 1.75 total goals per game. The team's current six on defense has been as good as any in the NHL.

Do you really risk shaking things up at this point? The answer, for the most part, is no.

"There's some guys that aren't coming out of the lineup," Laviolette said. "The lineup is set. The defense has played really well so I'm not going to make any changes there right now. The two centermen, they're both young, they've both played well. We'll continue to manage that. The goaltending, we're letting the goaltenders speak for what they do in the games -- exhibition games, the practices and the games that they're playing -- they'll speak and sort it out."

Friday's practice was optional meaning we will not know what changes, if any, Laviolette may make for Saturday's game against the Calgary Flames after Thursday's 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils. But the head coach can be confident in whatever changes he does make because, for now, there does not seem to be a wrong answer.