With the All-Star game now in the rearview mirror, the Capitals wasted little time getting back to business on Monday with the recall of Christian Djoos and Chandler Stephenson from the AHL.
Bringing back Stephenson is no real surprise. With only 12 forwards on the roster, Washington typically brings in an extra forward whenever they play on the road. Stephenson was recalled for the team's last road trip and played the final two games heading into the All-Star break. The team's first game back is on Tuesday in Brooklyn against the New York Islanders.
The real news is Djoos and what his recall may mean for John Carlson.
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Prior to the recall, the Caps had seven defensemen on the roster including Carlson who missed the last six games with a lower-body injury. It was believed that holding Carlson out of the team's two-game road trip heading into the All-Star break was just a precaution and that he would be ready to play against the Islanders.
If Carlson is ready to play, there would seem to be little reason to bring in an eighth defenseman, especially a prospect like Djoos.
A native of Goteborg, Sweden, Djoos is considered one of the team's top prospects on the blue line. In 35 games with Hershey this season, Djoos has earned 26 points. Though he may be undersized (6'0", 164 pounds) he is an incredibly skilled player. At only 22 years old, he has not yet made his NHL debut and is not the type of player the team would recall just to sit out as a healthy scratch.
While recalling Djoos does not necessarily mean Carlson may not yet be ready to return, the Caps now have eight defensemen on the roster meaning two now will have to sit out Tuesday's game. If Carlson is not one of them, who will it be?
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ARLINGTON, Va -- The Capitals are riding a six-game win streak and already have the most points in the NHL and now they will be adding one of their best players back into the lineup. Nicklas Backstrom said Sunday after practice that he is "ready to go" for Monday's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. It will be his first game since Nov. 18.
An upper-body injury forced Backstrom out of the lineup for the last eight games. Despite returning to practice during the team's road trip through California, he did not get into a game as the team preached caution with its star center. As the team returned home, Backstrom took line rushes on Sunday and both he and head coach Todd Reirden confirmed he would be back in for Monday's game.
"It was good to see him out there in full practice," Reirden said. "Did some drills specifically to help prepare him for tomorrow. He's good to go for tomorrow."
Backstrom said he knew when he woke up on Sunday that he was ready.
"As of today I'm good to go," he said. "I woke up and felt good. It's like that guy in 'Mighty Ducks,' I woke up, no pain."
It does not appear as if Backstrom will be eased back into the lineup as he skated on the top line in practice alongside Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson. Evgeny Kuznetsov had been playing in that spot, but the top line had grown stagnant. Ovechkin, Wilson and Kuznetsov combined for only one even-strength point in the past three games.
Barring something unexpected, the return of Backstrom should give the Caps their full lineup for the first time all season. Considering what the team has been able to accomplish thus far while having to shuffle the lineup because of injuries and suspensions, this has been an impressive start.
"I think that shows the depth that we have all the way through our lineup: forward, defenseman and our goaltending has been strong," Reirden said. "I think it's a clear understanding that it's a competitive situation that we've had since training camp that players are ready to take advantage of their opportunities that they get and they know that they need to otherwise there's a chance they could find themselves on the outside. The inner-competition we've had has probably helped push that a little bit. That's been a good problem to have, and it's allowed us to see some other players get opportunities and showcase some of the abilities they have."
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