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Chorney goes from losing the dream to living it

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Chorney goes from losing the dream to living it

Six months ago, Taylor Chorney was beginning to wonder if he would be perpetually stuck in the minor leagues. A 27-year-old defenseman with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, he had played 400 of his 461 pro games in the AHL and had reached what Capitals coach Barry Trotz called a “tipping point.”

“I don’t want to say you lose the dream, but you probably do a little bit,” Trotz said. “And he didn’t.”

On April 4, injuries to Pittsburgh Penguins defensemen Olli Maatta, Kris Letang and Christian Ehrhoff forced the Penguins to recall Chorney from the Baby Pens, in part because his contract came at the NHL minimum, and he never came out of the lineup.

“We were fighting for a playoff spot and a few of those games we only had five defensemen and I was forced to play more minutes than I normally would,” recalled Chorney, who will make his Capitals preseason debut tonight in Montreal against the Canadiens.

RELATED: Is Grubauer ready to take next step for Caps?

Chorney played in the Penguins’ final five games of the regular season and averaged more than 14 minutes a game. He followed with a strong playoff performance against the New York Rangers, averaging more than 17 minutes while finishing the post-season even on the plus-minus ledger.

“Getting a chance to play in the playoffs was awesome and I kind of hoped there were enough people watching where maybe I would get a new opportunity,” Chorney said.

The Caps were one of those teams and on July 1 they raised a few eyebrows by signing Chorney to a one-year contract worth $700,000. It was the first one-way contract of Chorney’s career, meaning he will be paid $700,000 whether he plays for the Capitals or the Bears.

“His tipping point came at a very key moment,” Trotz said. “I think he said, ‘I can play here. I played in the playoffs and didn’t feel out of place. I can play in this league every day.’ You can just tell. A player can be reborn a little bit. Joel Ward got that second shot and has played pretty good hockey for the last couple years. Taylor Chorney could be one of those guys.”

Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the second round of the 2005 NHL draft, Chorney played his college hockey at his parents’ alma mater, the University of North Dakota, where he established a strong relationship with newly acquired Capitals right wing T.J. Oshie, his Sioux teammate from 2005-08.

But while Oshie’s NHL career skyrocketed after leaving UND, Chorney has spent most of his past five seasons in the AHL.

“Chorns is one of the best teammates you’ll find,” Oshie said. “He’s a great locker room guy. He’s a little more educated about the league than I am. He’s friends with everyone.

“On the ice he battles hard, he’s a great skater and he does a very good job of getting the puck out of our end quick. I know there’s a fight at the back end of our D corps and I think he’s going to make a good run. But there are some good players here. We’ll see. I’m definitely excited to have him here. He’s a guy you want going down the stretch to have on your team.”

Trotz has identified 26-year-old Ryan Stanton, who played 54 games for the Vancouver Canucks last season, and 21-year-old Connor Carrick, who played last season in Hershey, as two of the other blue liners competing for the role of seventh defenseman.    

“I like (Chorney),” Terotz said. “I like the way he moves, I like his personality. I like the way he practices. There’s a lot of good things to like about Taylor. Stanton’s been pretty solid, to, and Carrick is playing with a lot of confidence right now. I’m going to let them fight that out.”

Chorney said he realizes that having a one-way contract guarantees him nothing more than an increase in pay, especially at a time when established NHL veterans like Derek Roy, Brad Boyes and Curtis Glencross are on tryout contracts.

“I’m so thankful it worked out the way it did,” he said. “You see guys that have had unbelievable careers and have proven a lot more at this level than I have. For me to have the opportunity I’ve got, I couldn’t be more thankful for it.  

“I’ve been grinding for a while and I’ve been on two-ways forever now. But to get a chance to get a one-way is pretty cool for me. It doesn’t necessarily guarantee anything. I’ve still got to come in and make the team. Now I’ve got to make good on the investment.”

MORE CAPS: Trotz: Backstrom eyeing return for season opener

 

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No Kuznetsov, no Oshie and no Holtby for the Caps in Colorado

No Kuznetsov, no Oshie and no Holtby for the Caps in Colorado

The Capitals are going to be a bit shorthanded when they take on the Colorado Avalanche on Friday in Denver (9 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Washington Plus). Friday’s game will be exactly one year to the date since the Caps last played in Colorado, a 6-2 loss just two days after a 6-3 loss in Nashville. Those two games were the low point of the entire 2017-18 season forcing the Caps to rally in their return home.

Here are three things to watch as the Caps hope for a better result this year in Denver:

Injury adjustments

Prior to Friday’s morning skate, the team announced that Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie and Braden Holtby will all be out due to upper-body injuries. Holtby suffered an injury the morning of Wednesday’s game in Winnipeg while both Kuznetsov and Oshie were injured off of questionable hits from the Jets during the game.

There is at least some good news as defenseman Michal Kempny, who missed Wednesday’s game due to illness, is back in.

With all the injuries and the players coming and going, here’s a look at what the lines looked like at morning skate, per Isabelle Khurshudyan:

Alex Ovechkin – Lars Eller – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Nicklas Backstrom – Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson – Travis Boyd – Brett Connolly
Dmitrij Jaskin – Nic Dowd – Devante Smith-Pelly

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

Obviously a very different look offensively than what we have seen to this point.

Injuries are never good, but the silver lining is seeing who steps up when they are presented with an opportunity. Burakovsky is someone who desperately needs to break out and he is playing on a second line with a lot of skill. Boyd moving up to the third line is a player to watch as well.

Ilya Samsonov will be the backup goalie

With Holtby out, Pheonix Copley will make his third consecutive start. But the Caps won’t be using an emergency backup this time as the team has recalled star prospect Samsonov from the Hershey Bears and he was on the ice Friday morning in Denver. In a corresponding move, Jonas Siegenthaler was reassigned to Hershey, but that may be just a paper move and he will most likely stay with the team for the remainder of the road trip.

In eight appearances in Hershey this season, Samsonov has registered a 3.73 GAA and .875 save percentage. Those are not great numbers by any means, but both he and the team have improved drastically since the start of the season.

It is, of course, unlikely that Samsonov will play, but there is at least a chance of Samsonov getting into his first NHL game.

Philipp Grubauer will start for the Avalanche

Ironically enough, Colorado will have two goalies with more Capitals experience than the Caps will on Friday with Grubauer and Semyon Varlamov.

On Friday, it will be Grubauer who gets the nod against his former team and the team in which he helped win a Stanley Cup last season.

“Looking down, yeah it’s going to be weird seeing guys on the other end, but then once the puck drops it’s all about business,” Grubauer told reporters on Friday.

Grubauer has had a rough start with his new team, posting a 3.55 GAA and .893 save percentage, but despite that he also has managed a 3-1-1 record. That's a stark contrast to his start last year in which he posted incredible numbers but struggled to get into the win column early in the season.

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Almost a quarter into the season, Todd Reirden still does not have his full roster 

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Almost a quarter into the season, Todd Reirden still does not have his full roster 

In his first year as an NHL head coach, Todd Reirden is well aware that all eyes are on him. Stepping in to coach the defending Stanley Cup champions is a favorable position in many ways, but it does mean Reirden will be under more scrutiny than most coaches in their first year.

For a first-year coach already facing pressure to succeed, it does not help that the season has already thrown a number of curve balls in terms of the roster.

“Coaching the defending champions is a unique challenge in itself,” Reirden told NBC Sports Washington in a recent interview, “But I think for the most part that I haven't had much time to spend on that because I've been busy working on different lineups every night.”

With very few departures in the offseason, Washington was able to bring back the vast majority of its Stanley Cup winning team for the 2018-19 season, something that was considered a major strength of the team heading into the new season.

So far, however, we have seen much more roster attrition from the Caps than consistency.

Now 18 games into the season, Reirden has not had his full roster available to him at any point.

Tom Wilson missed the first 16 games of the season due to suspension, Brooks Orpik is currently on long-term injured reserve, Michal Kempny missed the start of the season because of a concussion and missed Wednesday’s game due to an illness, Travis Boyd has played in only five games due to a lower-body injury he suffered in training camp and Braden Holtby was a surprise scratch on Wednesday with an upper-body injury that required the team dress an emergency backup goalie in Winnipeg. Even John Carlson sat out a game with a lower-body injury.

Things may get worse before they get better given Evgeny Kuznetsov left Wedensday’s game early with an upper-body injury, T.J. Oshie appeared dazed after getting slammed to the ice by Josh Morrissey and Holtby is still considered day-to-day.

The rest of the league, however, does not care about the Caps’ suspensions and injuries. Washington does not get extra points in the standings because they have missed so many players and there are no asterisks next to Reirden’s head coaching record.

In the early part of the season, Reirden’s focus has had to shift from bringing the defending champs back to their championship form to simply surviving the team’s current roster attrition while facing questions as to why the team has been so inconsistent all the while.

Reirden has enjoyed the challenge.

“I think it's allowed us to really focus on what gives us the best chance to win, putting guys in different situations, manipulating lineups against other teams and what they have as the strengths in their lineup and how we can combat that,” he said. “So it's been a challenge from that standpoint in terms of moving our lines around and different components. That's made it a little bit more challenging, but that's the part I really enjoy is making those adjustments in house and figuring out how to set up things for success.”

Reirden has certainly not been shy about changing his line combinations or the defensive pairings early in the season as he searched to find the right fit for each spot, each situation. The return of Wilson certainly seems to have made things more clear on the offensive lines, at least in terms of the top-nine.

But while the early suspension and the team’s early injury woes have led to some early struggles and while this certainly is not the start that Reirden would have hoped for in his first season, he is taking a big picture view of it all and stressing the positives.

There’s not much more that this season could throw at the Caps that Reirden and the team has not already had to adjust to.

“It's probably been part of the reason we've had some inconsistency is because of the different changes we've had with different lines and different D-pairs,” Reirden said. “But in the long run, it'll actually help prepare us for adversity that comes to us down the road.”

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