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Capitals have date in mind for Backstrom's return


Capitals have date in mind for Backstrom's return

The timetable for Nicklas Backstrom’s return from offseason hip surgery has been set at Nov. 1, with the possibility of him returning to the Capitals’ lineup sooner.

“As I said from Day 1, we’re looking at a worst-case scenario of maybe a 10-game type of thing if he has no setbacks and we’ll work from there,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “He’s been skating, so hopefully that timetable is going to be lessened.”

Backstrom underwent arthroscopic hip surgery on May 27. He has played in every Caps regular season game in six of his eight seasons in Washington.

“We’re just being cautious,” Trotz said. “He looks fine. He’s been getting a lot of good work and a lot of treatment. It’s going to be him and the doctors making sure our franchise player is not put at risk. That’s where we’re at. The timetable is set at November 1st. It may be before and I can’t tell you how much before, but we’re ready for if we go the distance (until Nov. 1).”

The Capitals open the regular season on Oct. 10 and play their 10th game of the regular season on Oct. 31. Their following game is on Nov. 3 in New York against the Rangers.

“He’s smart and he’s pretty patient with things,” Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “He’s smart. Nobody likes missing games and as frustrating as it might be for him, if he misses the first couple (games) of the season is a lot less frustrating than missing games when we need him going into the playoffs. It’s one of those things you don’t want to re-injure it and really set yourself back and kicking yourself because you missed more time than you should.”

Orpik (left wrist surgery) practiced for the first time with the Capitals on Friday but said he does not have complete strength and mobility and it seems unlikely he’ll dress for the Caps’ final preseason game on Sunday against the New York Islanders.

“It’s been a long three weeks,” Orpik said. “I’m lucky I had Nicky (Backstrom) but we were getting sick of each other.”

Orpik said playing on Sunday is a “possibility” but doesn’t want to rush things just to get in one preseason game.

“I couldn’t shoot until last week and even last week it was pretty weak,” he said. “There’s a little less pain and the strength is coming back slowly. Catching passes was the most painful thing in the beginning and that’s pretty much gone. It feels better and better every day, but it’s a little sore afterwards.”

Trotz said Orpik and Backstrom will have the final say on when they return.

“They know their bodies best,” he said.

Daddy time: Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen skipped practice to be with his wife, Katie, for the birth of their child.

“Like a good hockey wife she said shew would be induced,” Trotz said with a laugh. “I hope everything is going well with them and their new member of the family.”

Here’s a quick look at how the Caps are expected to look tonight when they play their sixth of seven preseason games:

Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson – Derek Roy – Justin Williams

Brooks Laich – Jay Beagle – Tom Wilson

Liam O’Brien – Chandler Stephenson – Michael Latta

Defensive pairings

Nate Schmidt – John Carlson

Karl Alzner – Dmitry Orlov

Aaron Ness – Taylor Chorney


Braden Holtby (2 poeriods) – Philipp Grubauer (1 period)

Trotz said Roy, 32, will start the game on the second line and 30 minutes into the contest Stephenson, 21, will take his place.

“A true competition,” Trotz said.

Roy, who is on a professional tryout, said he has not been offered a contract by the Capitals. His agent has not returned messages left for him in his Ottawa office.  

MORE CAPITALS: Caps hopeful talks fish, chickens and toothpaste

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Capitals mailbag: Where has all the hitting gone?


Capitals mailbag: Where has all the hitting gone?

It’s a new week, but Tom Wilson still seems to be on everyone’s mind. Let’s dive in to the mailbag. 

@cowgirl_bebop writes: Do you think with Wilson suspended for so long the Caps would consider calling up Shumakov if these other RW configurations don’t work out, especially since without any adjustments 43 still has about a month to go?

Not right away. The Caps committed somewhat to Dmitrij Jaskin when they claimed him off waivers and I believe they are going to give him more time to get his legs under him. Having said that, they aren’t going to wait much longer.

Through the Caps’ first five games, the only bottom-six forwards with goals are Nic Dowd and Lars Eller. Chandler Stephenson has scored as well, but he scored while playing on the top line. This team needs more depth scoring and they need it now.

On Friday, Sergei Shumakov scored two goals for the Hershey Bears. That’s an encouraging sign, but it is also important to remember that those are his only two points in five games so it’s not as if he’s been lighting it up in the AHL. He also suffered an upper-body injury on Sunday and had to leave that game early.

But, the bottom line is that Jaskin has shown little offensive upside at all to this point. I could definitely see the Caps recall Shumakov or someone like Shane Gersich in the near future to try and boost the offense on the third and fourth lines.

@jett_mahler writes: Caps found combining speed and physical play allowed them to be successful last year. Early this season the speed is there, but it seems like the physical play is missing. Is this the greater significance of missing Wilson?

The interesting thing about Wilson is that, with the NHL becoming a faster, more skill-based league, it actually makes Wilson an even more valuable player (when he’s not suspended). Wilson is a very good skater with offensive skill and who is an absolute wrecking ball on the ice. He can play and be successful in today’s NHL while also bringing that physicality the game is starting to lack. There just are not many players like him in the league anymore and that was especially true in the playoffs when no one really seemed to know how to deal with him.

The Caps are very conscious of the direction the league is going as is evidenced by the type of players they have drafted in recent years, but they also like being a physical team and found success doing that in the playoffs.

There has been less physical play from Washington to start and there’s no doubt in my mind that is largely the result of the most physical player being out of the lineup. I think it is no coincidence they picked up a player like Jaskin off waivers who, at 216 pounds, is among the bigger forwards on the team (Wilson is 218 pounds). If Jaskin had shown any offense at all, I think we may have seen Todd Reirden move him to the top line instead of Stephenson because adding that physical element there clearly works.

Nathan S. writes: On one hand the NHL came down very heavy on Tom Wilson for his dangerous head hit, yet in other ways the NHL has been slow to improve safety. Do you see NHL improving sorting this out or adopting new restrictions on fighting and head hitting any time soon?

There is undeniably something strange about suspending a player for a hit to the head while also being the only sport that allows fighting. OK, technically fighting is against the rules, but in most leagues taking a swing at an opponent would earn you a lengthy suspension rather than just a five minute timeout.

Let’s be fair. The league has made great strides in player safety as evidenced by the suspension to Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson. Matheson checked Vancouver Canucks forward Elias Pettersson into the boards, pinned him, then intentionally slammed him down to the ice causing a concussion. It launched this weird debate within the hockey community about whether physicality was being taken out of the league, but hey, I’ve got a crazy idea. Maybe Matheson should have just checked him and not intentionally slammed a player down onto the ice in a way that absolutely could cause an injury? The NHL rightfully suspended Matheson, but I don’t think they would have 10 years ago or five years ago or maybe even three years ago. That’s progress.

The direction I believe the league is going is that eventually fighting is going to be a thing of the past and will ultimately be banned altogether. From the league perspective, it doesn’t make sense in terms of player safety to keep it in the game. From a growing the game perspective, clearly the culture is changing and people are less attracted to the violent aspects of the game (just ask the NFL). Even from a strategic standpoint, it doesn’t make much sense. Teams have already moved on from the fourth line goons who would play six minutes a night and contribute nothing offensively. That means instead of losing a fourth-line player with little value for five minutes, teams risk losing a contributor to the penalty box.

I say this as someone who grew up watching the game and players like Craig Berube, Brendan Witt and Stephen Peat. It made sense back then, but I don’t think there’s much of a future for fighting in the NHL.

Jedd H. writes: Aside from when McDavid comes to town, what non-divisional games are a must watch/attend this season?

For a non-divisional game, circle March 10 in the calendar. That’s the day the Winnipeg Jets come to town. Not only are the Jets one of the bright young teams in the league and considered among the Cup contenders, but Patrik Laine may well turn into the best goal-scorer in the NHL since Alex Ovechkin (if Auston Matthews ever stops scoring at the torrid pace he’s on).

Two other interesting games are Jan. 14 against St. Louis and Feb. 3 against Boston. It seems like there may be some bad blood between the Caps and Blues given that someone has gotten suspended in each of the last three preseason games these teams have played. We know there’s bad blood between the Caps and Bruins as well. The fact that Washington has to travel to St. Louis and Boston before either team makes a return trip to Capital One Arena takes some luster of those two games, but if there’s any holdover from what are sure to be contentious matchups, these will definitely be games to watch.

Thanks for your questions! If you want to have your question answered on next week’s mailbag post, send it  to  


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The Caps are a bad faceoff team, here’s what they’re doing about it

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The Caps are a bad faceoff team, here’s what they’re doing about it

Tuesday’s practice was a lot like every other for the Caps until the end. After working on the power play, the team gathered at one end of the ice and began working on faceoffs. It was not just the centers, but wingers and defensemen alike got into the action with every win celebrated by loud cheers from teammates.

It should could as no surprise to see faceoffs as a point of emphasis for Washington considering just how much the team has struggled with them in the early season. The Caps rank 30th in the league in faceoff win percentage at only 43.8-percent.

“Yeah, there's little details that can help our game,” Lars Eller told reporters after practice. “The more you have the puck, easier the game is gonna be for you. We have a little more time in between games than usual during the season here, so we have the time to work on something like that, which can be little things that makes the difference.”

The team as a whole watched video on faceoffs prior to practice and then worked as a five-man unit during the drill. The main point of emphasis head coach Todd Reirden wanted to drill into his players was that faceoffs are not simply the responsibility of the centers alone.

“The days of it just being center vs. center and a clean draw being won back are a rarity now so it's important to have all five guys helping, something we watched video on earlier today,” Reirden said.

“You ask any centerman if they have a good group of wingers that can help them out on draws, that makes a huge difference,” Nic Dowd said. “I've been lucky, I have [Devante Smith-Pelly] on my right and I'm a righty so I win all my draws my backhand side so a lot of pucks go his way and he wins a lot of draws for me. That's huge. You have a guy that's sitting over there that's sleeping, you could go easily from five wins to five losses and then that's your night. It makes a big difference.”

Faceoffs were always going to be more of a struggle for the Caps this season with the departure of Jay Beagle who was, by far, the team’s best faceoff man for several years. Whenever the team needed a big draw, Beagle was the player relied upon to win it. With him gone, it is no surprise to see the team struggle.

But the Caps don’t like the idea of keeping possession off a draw just 43.8-percent of the time.

“It's essentially like the ref is creating a 50-50 puck and you snap it back, you get possession, now you're forechecking and it makes a huge difference,” Dowd said. “You play against those top lines, they want to be in the O-zone. Well, if you lose the draw, now you're playing D-zone, you win the draw now you're playing O-zone. So effectively, you've shut down their shift.”

There is a school of thought suggesting that perhaps the importance of winning faceoffs is overrated and a team’s faceoff win percentage is not overly important. Eller himself admitted as much to reporters.

What no one can argue, however, is that while some faceoffs may not matter all that much, there are some that are hugely important in a game. The Caps recognize that. For them, being a strong faceoff team is not necessarily about improving the team’s win percentage, but more about being able to win those critical draws.

“It's something that for the most part the players understand and a neutral zone faceoff with 14 minutes to go in the first period is not nearly as important as one that's 5-on-6 at the end of the game,” Reirden said. “We all know that. It's important to put the right people on those situations and give them the best chance to have success.”

“A center ice draw, I could see where guys could make the argument, well you lose it you still will play hockey and stuff could still happen,” Dowd said. “But I think the game is such a possession game now that any opportunity you can win a 50-50 puck whether that's a faceoff or a board battle, it makes a huge difference.”