Capitals

Quick Links

Battle for Caps roster spots nears climax

usatsi_8834470_141983962_lowres.jpg

Battle for Caps roster spots nears climax

Heading into their final two games of the exhibition season – tonight at home against the Boston Bruins and Sunday night at home against the New York Islanders (both on CSN) – the Capitals have some decisions to make at three key positions.

While Taylor Chorney appears to have the upper hand on Aaron Ness and Ryan Stanton in the hunt for the open spot as the Caps’ seventh defenseman, and goaltender Philipp Grubauer seems like the logical choice over Justin Peters as Braden Holby’s backup, the role of fourth-line center is down to a battle between Derek Roy, 32, and Chandler Stephenson, 21.

“I can tell you this,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “There’s tougher decisions this year than last year.”

Tonight against the Bruins, Roy will start the game centering a second line between left wing Marcus Johansson and right wing Justin Williams. But midway through the game, Trotz said he’ll insert Stephenson between Johansson and Williams so that he can get a fair assessment on both centers.

“That is the plan,” Trotz said. “They both know it. They’ve been told that. And now you know it. It is a true competition.”

In three preseason games Roy, who is on a professional tryout contract, has one goal on two shots, along with one assist, and is a plus-1 with four penalty minutes. Stephenson, who spent his first pro season with the AHL Hershey Bears last year, has no goals on seven shots and is also a plus-1 with no penalty minutes.

Roy, a veteran of 738 NHL games, recorded 12 goals and 20 assists in 72 games for the Predators and Oilers last season.  Stephenson, a third-round pick of the Caps in 2012 (77th overall), had seven goals and seven assists in 54 games with the Bears.

“I haven’t heard anything,” Roy said following Friday’s morning skate at Kettler. “I’m taking one day at a time and not looking ahead.

“I’m not thinking too much about what anybody’s saying. I just want to go out and play my game. I can’t worry about whatever I can’t control. That’s the way I’ve been my whole life. I want to do whatever it takes to make this hockey club.”

The number of games center Nicklas Backstrom will miss as he recovers from hip surgery could be the determining factor in whether the Caps start the season with Roy or Stephenson. Trotz said Friday the Caps are preparing to be without Backstrom until Nov. 1.

If Roy is signed to a contract the Caps would be committed to keeping him on their roster all season. If Stephenson makes the team the Caps could assign him to Hershey without putting him on waivers once Backstrom returns.

Roy said that after some early soreness this is the best he has felt in training camp and is out to prove he belongs on the Caps’ 23-man roster, which is due to the NHL by 5 p.m. on Tuesday.

“He didn’t get a contract this summer, so just be the best he can be at this point in his career,” Trotz said of Roy. “He’s done a good job and with a couple days off he’s fresh and healthy.”

With forward Zach Sill and defenseman Connor Carrick assigned to Hershey on Friday here’s a look at the Caps’ current depth chart by position:

LEFT WING – CENTER – RIGHT WING

Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson – Andre Burakovsky – Justin Williams

Jason Chimera – Jay Beagle – Tom Wilson

Brooks Laich – Derek Roy/Chandler Stephenson - Michael Latta

Liam O’Brien – Sean Collins - Stan Galiev

Injured: Nicklas Backstrom

LEFT DEFENSE - RIGHT DEFENSE

Brooks Orpik - John Carlson

Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen

Nate Schmidt - Dmitry Orlov

Ryan Stanton - Taylor Chorney - Aaron Ness

GOALTENDERS

Braden Holtby - Philipp Grubauer - Justin Peters

MORE CAPITALS: Capitals have date in mind for Backstrom's return

Quick Links

The Toronto Maple Leafs are not happy with Caps' Lars Eller

The Toronto Maple Leafs are not happy with Caps' Lars Eller

On Saturday, the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals faced off against one of the hottest young teams in the NHL, the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was viewed as a marquee matchup and it certainly lived up to its billing with both teams battling in a tight, well-played game.

In the end, Toronto walked away as the 4-2 victors in one of their better wins of the young season, but not everyone left that game impressed.

A team that already boasted super-star talent Auston Matthews added John Tavares in the offseason as a free agent giving the Maple Leafs a formidable one, two punch at center. For most of the game, the Caps were able to shut down that center tandem.

Lars Eller was asked after the game how the Caps were able to keep the Leafs’ big stars in check and he indicated that perhaps Tavares and Matthews were not as formidable a pair as they had been made out to be.

“We’re used to playing against [Sidney Crosby] and [Evgeni Malkin],” Eller said. “Everything kind of drops from there so it’s not that special. It’s a good team like a lot of others. They’ll probably be a playoff team, I think.”

Not surprisingly, that quote caught Toronto’s attention, especially forward Nazem Kadri.

Per Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, Kadri called Eller’s comments “bulletin board material.”

With 12 points in seven games, the Maple Leafs currently boast the top record in the league. Toronto is far from perfect, however, and their defense remains a major question mark in whether this team is a true Stanley Cup contender.

But as to whether or not they are a playoff team? That seems like a pretty safe bet.

The Caps and Maple Leafs will meet twice more this season on Jan. 23 and Feb. 21. Both games are in Toronto.  

MORE CAPITALS NEWS:

 

Quick Links

Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

chandler_stephenson.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

With Tom Wilson still serving a 20-game suspension, Washington Capitals head coach Todd Reirden has the difficult task of finding a wing to complement his top line of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. For the first four games of the season, that player was Brett Connolly.

On Saturday, however, he changed things up and went with Chandler Stephenson instead.

Just 18 seconds into the game, Stephenson made his head coach look very smart as he finished off a 2-on-1 with Kuznetsov to score his first goal of the season.

“Obviously, the start was great,” Reirden said after the game.

Stephenson is an incredibly fast skater and the extra speed seemed to add another dimension to that line that opponents had to contend with, and it led to both of the Caps’ goals on the night.

In addition to Stephenson’s goal, Ovechkin drew a tripping penalty in the second period, and Washington scored on the resulting power play.

“Those guys are a lot of fun to play with,” Stephenson said. “They just know where to be and can find each other. I've just got to get the puck to them and just go to the net with your stick on the ice, and they'll find you.”

The top line’s success was a matter of finding instant chemistry as Stephenson had very little time to adjust. The Caps were off on Friday following back-to-back games, and Reirden did not make the switch of putting Stephenson on the top until Saturday’s morning skate.

Putting a new top line together with little time to practice does not seem like an ideal scenario, but according to Kuznetsov, the level of familiarity between all the players made the adjustment quick and easy.

“It doesn't matter with who you play,” he said. “In this locker room, we can communicate with anybody. We don't have a first line, we don't have a fourth line. We try and roll all lines.”

Reirden seemed pleased with the new trio after the game saying, “They did a number of good things during the game as well, so they I thought accomplished a lot. I thought [Stephenson] brought the speed on the forecheck and was able to at least go after their defense a little bit and force some turnovers that Kuznetsov and [Ovechkin] were able to at least get some opportunities from. So I think that's important to have him in that situation.”

Reirden was happy enough with the top line’s performance to keep them together. The team is off Monday, but Stephenson remained on the top line during Sunday’s practice.

But so long as Wilson remains out, finding the right match for the top line will remain a work in progress.

Said Reirden, “We’ll continue to try to put together our four lines that give us the best chance.”

MORE CAPITALS NEWS: