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Backstrom's return remains uncertain

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Backstrom's return remains uncertain

While his teammates were putting themselves through Barry Trotz’s grueling fitness skate at Friday’s first day of training camp, center Nicklas Backstrom (offseason hip surgery) and defenseman Brooks Orpik (offseason wrist surgery) skated on their own, waiting to be fully cleared by the team’s medical staff.

While Orpik is expected to be cleared in time to play in the Capitals’ seven-game exhibition season, Backstrom’s timetable is far more nebulous, with the Caps’ Oct. 10 season opener still very much in doubt.

“It’s hard to say,” Backstrom said Friday. “I can’t really tell you a date. As I said before, I’m feeling good, no setbacks, and that’s a good sign. I’m starting to skate harder and harder now. It’s just getting the legs going and the strength in my leg. That’s what it’s all about. Hopefully, it will get better in a couple weeks and we’ll go from there. We’ll take it day by day.”

After playing in all 82 games last season and leading the NHL with 60 assists, Backstrom underwent arthroscopic surgery on May 27 and began skating with Capitals conditioning coach Mark Nemish on Sept. 3. He said that while others may be preoccupied by his availability for the Caps’ season opener, he’s not, even though he’s played in every Capitals regular season game the past three seasons.

“I would love to play in the premier, but who knows?” Backstrom said. “I don’t know myself. We’ll see how I progress in the next couple weeks. I hope to be ready, but you never know.”

Backstrom said a determining factor for when he is cleared to play is the amount of soreness he feels after heavy skating. Once that soreness dissipates, he expects to be cleared.

“It could be opening night. I could miss five games, I could miss 10 games. I don’t know. It’s all about how I’m doing and I guess the only one who can answer that is me. And I don’t know myself yet.”

Check out all the updates from Friday's media day here.

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Holtby is back, but Copley will start

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Holtby is back, but Copley will start

The Capitals take on the Montreal Canadiens to finish off a four-game road swing on Monday (7:30 p.m., NBC Sports Washington). Washington has won two of its first three games on the trip and look to take win No. 3 in Montreal.

Here are four things to watch:

Braden Holtby is back, but Pheonix Copley will get the start

The Caps reassigned Ilya Samsonov to the Hershey Bears on Monday signaling that Braden Holtby will be back in the lineup for Monday’s game, but Pheonix Copley will still get the start.

Copley has been impressive on the road trip getting all three starts thus far with a .922 save percentage and 2.01 GAA. It says a lot that even with Holtby back, the Todd Reirden is still willing to put in Copley. Per Isabelle Khurshudyan, Reirden said he wanted to get Holtby back into his routine before starting him.

No Oshie, no Kuznetsov

T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov were both injured in Wednesday’s game and will be out of the lineup in Montreal.

Here is a look at the lines from the morning skate:

Alex Ovechkin – Lars Eller – Tom Wilson

Jakub Vrana – Nicklas Backstrom – Andre Burakovsky

Chandler Stephenson – Travis Boyd – Devante Smith-Pelly

Dmitrij Jaskin – Nic Dowd – Brett Connolly

Dmitry Orlov – John Carlson
Michal Kempny – Matt Niskanen
Christian Djoos – Madison Bowey

It is important to remember that when the Caps finally get healthy, they will have two extra forwards on the roster. While the Caps can afford to keep two, most teams typically only carry one and Washington may look to trim one of those extra forwards in the coming weeks. That makes games like this one where more players are getting into the lineup and getting more minutes because of Oshie and Kuznetsov’s absence critical for those players who may or may not be fighting to stay on Washington’s roster.

Todd Reirden remembers

The last time these two teams met, things did not go that well for the Caps. Washington had a 4-3 lead late in the third period, but the Canadiens would score three goals in the final 3:04 of the game to win it 6-4.

Reirden has not forgotten about that game and called a fake goalie interference challenge late in Colorado on Friday just so he could remind his team to finish strong.

“It was a situation where a few weeks ago we had the lead and let it go against Montreal and it was something that we discussed with our team,” Reirden said following Friday’s game.”

Reirden reminded the players about how that game ended as a way to motivate them in Colorado. How much more will he remind them about it on Monday in a rematch against the Canadiens and will it lead to a stronger finish for Washington?

Max (Power) Domi

Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin has been widely criticized for many of the moves he has made while with the Canadiens. It appears this summer, however, like he may have done something right.

Bergevin acquired forward Max Domi from the Arizona Coyotes for Alex Galchenyuk. It is a deal that looked decidedly one-sided in favor of Arizona, but let’s take all of the context out of it for one moment and just look at how Domi is performing right now. He looks like a tremendous player.

Domi has already racked up 10 goals in just 20 and comes into Monday on a nine-game point streak, a streak that started on Nov. 1 in the game against Washington. He has far and away been the team’s top offensive threat this season and leads Montreal in points with 24, seven more than second-place Tomas Tatar.

Speaking of Tatar, he is also someone the Caps will have to look out for as he has seemingly settled in with his new team and has six goals in his last six games.

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NHL Power Rankings: What a difference Tom Wilson makes

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NHL Power Rankings: What a difference Tom Wilson makes

If I told you the Caps would lose Braden Holtby, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie on the current road trip and win at least two of their four games, you would probably take that.

Well, on Monday, Washington has a chance to grab three out of four wins on their road trip in a stretch that feels like it could be a turning point on a sluggish start to the season.

At 9-7-3, there’s no question the Caps were hoping for a better start to the season considering all the players they had coming back. Having said that, given all the challenges they have faced to start the season (Tom Wilson’s suspension, all the injuries), first year head coach Todd Reirden has done a decent job to get the team to this point.

Now a quarter of the way in, however, it’s time to pick things up and make a run.

SEE THIS WEEKS’S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

Here are a few observations from the past week:

  • What a difference Wilson makes. The Caps look like a completely different team with him in the lineup. When he first started playing on the top line last season, he looked a bit out of place, but that’s definitely no longer the case. He adds so much more than just physicality. He is a good skater, wins board battles and has the offensive and defensive ability to make that top line defensively balanced while still being so dangerous offensively. Not only does he look tremendous on the top line, but the Caps also really struggle to fill his spot in the lineup when he’s out. If you still think he’s nothing more than a goon, you’re just not paying attention to all the positives he brings to the lineup.
  • The Caps have found a backup goalie. I have gone back and forth on Pheonix Copley, but there’s no denying how well he has played when the team needed him the most. He looked great in the preseason, shaky to start, but he has gotten better with each game. With Holtby’s injury, Copley was forced to start three road games in four days and he provided solid, strong goaltending. In seven appearances this season, Copley has a 2.65 GAA, .908 save percentage and, most importantly, a record of 4-2-1. He is not nearly as smooth a goalie as Holtby, but he has great size which he uses to his advantage specifically down low. He has also looked great on breakaways and odd-man rushes. The question of backup goaltending now looks officially settled.
  • This isn’t the first time we’ve seen John Carlson with Dmitry Orlov as a pair. They played a few games together at the start of last season and they looked horrible together. Putting Orlov with Matt Niskanen and Carlson with Michal Kempny provides much more balanced pairings, but it just wasn’t working this season. Interestingly enough, all four players have looked better the last few games since switching it up. Perhaps the pairs had gotten stale and they just needed time apart, but for now the switch is working.
  • Madison Bowey may be the most improved player on the roster this season and is playing with a lot more confidence on both ends of the ice. That first NHL goal is coming.

How improved the Caps look with Wilson back plus how the team banded together in the wake of so many significant injuries gave them a boost this week.

FIND OUT WHERE THEY LAND IN THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS

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