At 5-4-3, the Caps are still very much a team trying to figure themselves out. One issue that is holding them back is the players the team is missing.
Tom Wilson is suspended and both Travis Boyd and Brooks Orpik are injured. The absence of those players has forced Reirden to turn to others on the roster giving them an opportunity to take advantage and step up in the lineup.
“G are getting opportunities and some are taking advantage of it and some aren't,” Reirden said after Saturday’s loss. “It's a golden opportunity for lots of different guys, whether' it's penalty kill opportunities, it's the stuff that he brings on that first line. These are opportunities that as a young player, old player, player you pick up, whatever the situation is they have to take advantage of it.”
There were a lot of things that did not go well for the Caps on Saturday, a game in which they trailed 2-0, battled back to tie the game at 3 and ultimately lost in overtime.
But there were a number of players who also earned praise for their performances. One in particular, Reirden unsolicited found the need to point out by name.
“I in particular like Jaskin's game tonight,” Reirden said.
Jaskin started the game on the third line with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly. That line was the Caps’ best of the night and Jaskin was a big reason why. He won battles on the boards and won puck possession with his physical play that generated offensive opportunities. As a line, Jaksin, Eller and Connolly combined for nine shots on goal and both Jaskin and Eller recorded an assist on a goal from Connolly in the second period.
“I thought [Jaskin] was great,” Connolly said. “He’s a big body who holds onto pucks, made a good play on the goal, head up and got it to me there for the shot before it went in. Me and Lars are getting to where we know where can play and [Jaskin] was very good on the left side tonight for sure.”
“I think any player feels more comfortable with more minutes he gets so I appreciate every shift I get and obviously feel better,” Jaskin said.
The absence of Orpik also left open an opportunity for Madison Bowey and he may well have played his best NHL game on Saturday.
“I liked a lot of things [Bowey] did,” Reirden said. “His skating, that's something we talk about is that that's got to be a factor every night. Whether it's in-house or just how we evaluate our players or people coming to watch, it's important that they're able to see that No. 22, his skating ability and his ability as a right shot to be able to add some offense and defend with his feet and with his size. He was physical today, on a couple different occasions he's joining the rush, he's being a part of things.”
Every aspect in which Bowey appeared timid last season, he seems to be improving in. He played very physically on Saturday and also stepped up into the play offensively. Bowey recorded five shot attempts in the game, more than players like T.J. Oshie (4), Jakub Vrana (2) and John Carlson (4).
It was expected that Washington’s third defensive pairing would be a cycle between Orpik, Bowey and Christian Djoos this season. That was not really the case early on.
Bowey played the first two games of the season until Michal Kempny returned from a concussion and sat out the next seven. He has now played in three straight contests and is making a strong case for why he deserves more playing time even when Orpik is ready to return.
“That would be a guy who right now is taking advantage of an opportunity in that situation without Brooks,” Reirden said. “I think he's making a good case for himself.”
Orpik’s return will force some shuffling on the third pairing, but the return of Boyd and Wilson will be more significant because it will require the team to make roster moves in order to fit them onto the 23-man roster and, in Boyd’s case since he is on LTIR, fit his salary under the cap.
When asked if the players he has given opportunities to have risen to the occasion, Reirden said, “I think in some cases yes, some cases no.”
Those players that aren’t rising to the occasion may well find themselves off the Caps’ roster altogether when the team returns to full strength. If Jaskin and Bowey continue playing the way they did Saturday, however, those are two players who look like they may not only stick around, but could gain more trust and more playing time.
“We'll continue to search for the right combinations that give us a chance to start to string together some more success here win wise,” Reirden said. “But yes, we're definitely a work in progress.”
MORE CAPS NEWS: