When the Capitals take to the ice in Carolina on Friday, they will again be without playoff hero Devante Smith-Pelly who has yet to play in the preseason.
Friday’s game will be Washington’s fourth of the preseason contest.
By now, every skater on the roster has played in at least one game except for Smith-Pelly, Lars Eller and John Carlson. Eller and Carlson both dealt with minor lower-body injuries that held them out of the first few days of training camp, but there has been no such issue for Smith-Pelly who has participated in every practice.
“He's still trying to get to the level where he was at last year and until he does, it doesn't do us any good as a team or for him to be playing in games,” head coach Todd Reirden said when asked about Smith-Pelly remaining out of game action. “He's working really hard to get back to that spot and he's close, but until he's at that spot, he won't be in the lineup because I don't feel that's setting a player up for success at all. We're hoping that that's in the next little bit here.”
When asked what the specific issue was with Smith-Pelly, Reirden declined to elaborate saying only, “He's just not at the level that he was at last year. That to me is really all there is to say about it. Once he gets there, he'll be in and he'll be helping us.”
For his part, Smith-Pelly told reporters he was not dealing with any injuries and that not playing was simply a coach’s decision.
“It was a short summer,” he said. “I'm not going to make any excuse or anything, but it was a short summer, a little different. Everyone's trying to get ready for the start of the year and everyone's path is a little bit different.”
Smith-Pelly scored seven goals in 75 games for the Caps in the regular season but was phenomenal in the playoffs with seven more goals in just 24 games leading to a new one-year contract with Washington.
With a roster competition for the fourth line, Smith-Pelly’s absence is not ideal, but he is in a much different position this year than last when he entered camp on a two-way contract. Now his contract is one-way and, based on Reirden’s comments, his playoff performance speaks for itself.
“[Smith-Pelly] had just a phenomenal postseason for us and he's a really important player for us. If you don't get that sort of impact from your bottom six guys then you're not going to win the Stanley Cup and he was a huge part for us. Like I said, we need him in there and I hope to have him in there soon.”
“I want to play every game, but that's coach's decision to get everyone ready for when it matters,” Smith-Pelly said. “Just like everyone else, I'm working to be ready for October 3.”
Eller will make his preseason debut in Carolina, but Carlson remains out of the lineup as well. Reirden said Carlson’s absence was a precaution and the hope is that he will be ready to play in Tuesday’s game against the St. Louis Blue.s
“[Carlson’s] done some more contact in scrimmages and in practice,” Reirden said. “He's really close, but again, it doesn't set the player up for any kind of success if we put him out there and take the chance of losing valuable players when they're not ready to go and up to speed.”
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