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Trotz updates injury situation, talks line tweaks ahead of Pens' visit

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USA TODAY Sports

Trotz updates injury situation, talks line tweaks ahead of Pens' visit

After taking a day off, the Caps returned to the ice Thursday morning with some new faces and tweaked forward lines ahead of Friday’s showdown with the Penguins.

The big news, of course, was the much anticipated return of Matt Niskanen, Brett Connolly and Tyler Graovac to practice. Niskanen was in a non-contact jersey; Conolly and Graovac were full participants.

Rookie defenseman Madison Bowey also returned after being a late scratch Tuesday night in Buffalo with a lower-body injury.

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Here’s how Coach Barry Trotz had his players lined up:

Forwards
Stephenson – Backstrom – Oshie
Ovechkin – Kuznetsov – Smith-Pelly
Vrana – Eller – Wilson
O’Brien – Beagle – Chiasson
Extras: Connolly, Graovac and Walker

Defense
Djoos – Carlson
Orpik – Bowey
Orlov – Chorney
Extra: Niskanen, Ness

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So, yeah, lots to catch up on. Let’s begin with the injuries:

  • Niskanen said he felt good in his first skate back, but also indicated that he needs a little more time before being game-ready. He’s missed the past 11 contests.
  • Connolly confirmed that he has missed the past six games with the first diagnosed concussion of his career. He also said he’s been cleared but isn’t sure if he’ll return vs. the Penguins.
  • Connolly, who has one goal and one assist in 10 games, said he used the time on the shelf to hit the reset button on the start to his season. “It’s been a long couple of weeks,” he said. “I’ve had a couple of weeks to reset and recap my first nine [plus] games of the season. Hopefully I can come back, start fresh and have a strong game right away and build from there.”
  • I didn’t get a chance to catch up with Graovac, who is also working his way back from an upper body injury. He was not assigned to a line, either, which leads me to believe he won’t face the Penguins.
  • Bowey told me he’s good to go for the Pittsburgh game. It’ll be the rookie’s first game against the Penguins.
  • Trotz said the players returning to practice will ratchet up the pressure on guys who are on the bubble or aren’t performing. “We have five lines and eight D,” Trotz said. “It should signal a lot of bells to a lot of guys in that room. There’s a lot of competition for the 23 spots now. When everybody gets healthy, we’re going to have to make some decisions. So if you’re in the lineup, you got to make sure you bring your ‘A’ stuff to stay in the lineup because the competition is back. That’s good for any hockey team.”
  • The change to the forward lines is Chandler Stephenson moving up into the top-six and Jakub Vrana dropping to the third line. Stephenson, obviously, is pumped about his recent career trajectory, which has seen him go from waived to the AHL to the Caps' third line and now to the left side of Nicklas Backstrom's line. “It’s been quite the experience,” he said after practice. “With him and Osh, you just give them a target and they’ll find you. So you have to be ready and always bear down with those guys.”
  • Trotz said the move was made simply because he’s looking to spark the Backstrom line. Backstrom has no goals in nine games and no points in seven. Oshie, meanwhile, has one goal in the past 11 games.
  • Trotz also indicated that Stephenson’s promotion is more of an experiment—for now, anyway. “I think Chandler has played okay,” Trotz said. “I don’t think he was as good as he was the first couple of games—I’ll be honest about that. I just think he might be a good complement going forward here. So we just tried that in practice today. If you watched last game, we probably used five different people on the left side with Backy. We’re looking for a little spark here.”
  • And there was this: hockey players introducing their young ones to the game. For 20-month-old Turner Chorney, it was his first time on the ice. 

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Key Caps questions: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

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USA TODAY Sports

Key Caps questions: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?

Tarik: The term ‘Stanley Cup Hangover’ exists because, well, it’s a real thing. And the Caps, like all teams that battle into early June, are vulnerable to suffering from it next season.

Why? Think about it. No. 1, the core group just completed the longest season—106 games—of their lives (and, somewhere, the party is still going). No. 2, the top guys aren't exactly a bunch of spring chickens. No. 3, human nature.

A little more on that last one. Alex Ovechkin and Co. have spent the entirety of their professional hockey careers chasing Lord Stanley’s Cup. And now they have it. At long last. Hoisting the Cup was as much a moment to cherish as it was a gigantic relief for a team that had been labeled perennial underachievers. Shifting gears from that feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment back to hunger and determination is difficult.

Something else that worries me a bit? They don’t have experience dealing with a truncated offseason. Rest and recovery matter. And they aren’t going to get much of either this summer.

All that said, they don’t have to stumble through the 2018-19 season. If you're looking at things from the optimist's point of view, the Cup run did something for Ovechkin and his teammates that none of the previous failures could: It showed them EXACTLY what it takes to play deep into the spring.

Eleven out of 12 forwards from the championship squad are expected back. Five of six defensemen and the goalie are returning, as well. Sure, they’ve got a new head coach, but he’s been here for four years already, giving him a huge advantage over a bench boss who’s starting from scratch. So there’s continuity and chemistry already built in.

I look at it like this: The core guys who’ve been around a while—Ovechkin, Backstrom, Carlson, Holtby, etc.—have a rare opportunity before them. After coming up short for so many years, they’ve been gifted an extraordinary chance to make up for lost time over the next 12-24 months. In fact, Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Backstrom, Oshie, Eller, Carlson, Niskanen, Orlov, Kempny and Holtby have two more years together, as a core, before the next round of tough decisions will need to be made.

But it’s going to be up to them. Are they going to be satisfied with one Cup? Or will they get greedy? I’m betting on the latter.

Regan: The Capitals could enter next season hungry, motivated, in the right mindset, completely prepared in every way to avoid a Cup hangover and it may still happen. Why? Because the Capitals (and Vegas for that matter) will enter next season with less time to rest, recover and prepare after a grueling playoff run than any other team in the NHL.

First things first, no, I do not think the Caps will struggle because they are are partying too hard this summer and won't be ready for the start of the season.

It took a long time Washington to finally reach the top of the mountain. It won't be lost on Alex Ovechkin, or any of the veterans, that the year he came into training camp early and in really good shape, that was the year he was able to lead his team to the promised land. Considering all the struggles, all the early playoff exits, all the years it took to finally win, I expect the veterans will look at how they prepared last season and take that lesson to heart going into camp. Those players will enter the fall in as good a shape as the time they have this offseason will allow them to be.

But this team is not just composed of veterans of the Ovechkin era who suffered through all of those postseason struggles.

What about the youngsters? Will Jakub Vrana have the same motivation as Ovechkin or a Nicklas Backstrom to show up to camp ready next season? What about Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey? If any of the team's young players aren't exactly in "game shape" by the fall, they won't be the first and they certainly won't be the last to struggle with early career playoff success.

There's also a new head coach to consider. In a lot of ways, I think coming into the season with a new coach in Todd Reirden will help. I don't expect too much adjustment under a coach the team knows very well, but I do expect more motivation at the start of the regular season than you usually see from a team coming off a championship.

There are a lot of reasons why the Caps could actually avoid a Cup hangover, but the fact is that time puts them at a disadvantage. Even if they overcome all the other factors, there's nothing they can do to suddenly give themselves more time to recover and to train. For that reason alone, I do expect a few early-season struggles from the defending champs.

Other key questions

How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?

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Capitals' T.J. Oshie had so much fun golfing, drinking through shirt again at celebrity golf tournament

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Capitals' T.J. Oshie had so much fun golfing, drinking through shirt again at celebrity golf tournament

Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo may have won the American Century Championships celebrity golf tournament this weekend, but T.J. Oshie definitely had the most fun.

Using the Modified Stableford scoring format for the tournament — which included several pro and retired athletes, such as Steph Curry, Aaron Rodgers, Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer, Charles Barkley and Joe Pavelski — Oshie finished with 11 points, tying for 48th with NFL Hall of Famer Tim Brown and Golf Channel host Lisa Cornwell. 

But the Capitals' winger's score didn't really matter because Oshie was out on the Lake Tahoe golf course in Nevada just having fun with his family and continuing the epic celebration as a new Stanley Cup champion. Obviously, that meant playing and chugging a beer through his t-shirt as 'We Are The Champions' played.

His brother, Taylor, was his caddy, and at one point, Oshie borrowed his brother's beer helmet while putting. He sunk it, and it was amazing.

Yeah, Oshie had a great weekend. Here's a look at some other moments from his weekend on Lake Tahoe.

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