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How will Capitals make room for return of Orpik?

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How will Capitals make room for return of Orpik?

Day by day, conditioning skate by conditioning skate, Brooks Orpik is preparing to parachute back into the Capitals’ lineup after more than three months healing from a bone fracture from a blocked shot.

Orpik’s return could come as soon as Thursday night in St. Paul, where he could take the pregame skate, or Saturday night in Dallas when the Caps visit the Stars.

Whenever his return comes, the Caps’ coaching staff will have a difficult decision on their hands.

When Orpik left the lineup on Nov. 10, the Caps had a record of 10-4-0. During his absence they’ve gone 29-5-4, in large part because of an improved defense corps that also helped the Caps go 9-2-1 without John Carlson.

That leaves head coach Barry Trotz and assistant coach Todd Reirden with two tough choices: Where do they insert Orpik, and who comes out?

Nate Schmidt is averaging 19:19 of ice time on a top pairing with Carlson (he averaged less than 16 minutes before Orpik’s injury) and has played so well (2 goals, 10 assists, plus-14) it would be an injustice to pull him off the top unit.

Matt Niskanen (3 goals, 20 assists, plus-18, 24:45) and Karl Alzner (3 goals, 15 assists, plus-17, 21:30) have been rock steady all season as the Caps’ second defense unit and will remain intact.

That means Orpik almost certainly will return to the lineup on the third pairing, playing limited minutes while resuming his penalty killing duties. Orpik is a left-handed shot and plays the left side.

MORE CAPITALS: NOBODY'S PERFECT

Dmitry Orlov (5 goals, 14 assists, plus-12, 15:22) and Taylor Chorney (0 goals, 5 assists, plus-13, 12:55) have made up the Caps’ third pair throughout much of Orpik’s absence. Both are left-handed shooters, with Orlov playing the left side and Chorney the right.

Orlov, 24, would seem to be the perfect fit for Orpik because of his offensive flair. Since returning from a wrist injury that stole all of last season from him, Orlov has worked hard to improve his overall defensive play and decision making this season and has been a plus-5 in his last eight games.

“He’s making better decisions,” Trotz said. “His one-on-one play is much better, his containment is much better than it was maybe a couple games ago. It’s game management, knowing how you can change a game.”

The Caps also have the option of working Orpik into the lineup by playing seven defensemen and 11 forwards, perhaps sitting right wing Michael Latta in favor of Orpik. Either way, the Caps will be monitoring closely the play of Orpik, determining whether they will need to upgrade their blue line before the Feb. 29 trade deadline.

Maintenance for Richards: Caps fourth-line center Mike  Richards sat out Wednesday’s practice with what Trotz called a maintenance day. If Richards cannot play Thursday night against the Wild, look for Stan Galiev to replace him on the fourth line, with Brooks Laich moving to center.  

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With Caps in Vancouver, Jay Beagle receives his ring

With Caps in Vancouver, Jay Beagle receives his ring

On June 7 in Las Vegas, Jay Beagle was in a Capitals uniform as they hoisted their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Three weeks later, the 33-year-old signed a four-year, $12-million contract with the Vancouver Canucks

The Capitals begin a four-game, Canadian road trip this evening in Vancouver. Beagle did not attend the Capitals ring ceremony at the Palm three weeks ago so the Caps awarded Beagle with his ring today.

Each ring contains 252 diamonds, 35 rubies and one sapphire. Beagle was impressed but isn't sure how much use the ring will get.

“Not sure I’ll wear it again. It’s like wearing my truck.”

Jay Beagle will not be on the ice tonight against his former team. Beagle broke his forearm when he blocked a shot against the Florida Panthers on October 13th. Beagle is expected to be sidelined for another five weeks.

Despite the injury, it has still been a great week for Beagle. 

A shiny, new ring AND a baby girl. Not too shabby.

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4 things to watch in Capitals at Canucks

4 things to watch in Capitals at Canucks

It’s going to be a late night. The Caps are in Vancouver to take on the Canucks (10 p.m., NBC Sports Washington Plus) for the first of a four-game swing through Canada. Grab your coffee, here are four things you need to watch.

Offensive firepower

Washington enters Monday’s game with the top offense in the NHL with 4.14 goals per game. Vancouver had one of the worst defenses in the league last year. They have looked much improved at the start of this season, but they are still giving up 3.00 goals per game. Washington’s high-powered superstars should be able to take advantage and get some points on the board.

Adjusted lines

The fact that Washington has the top offense in the NHL is surprising considering how much their depth forwards have struggled to produce. Prior to Friday’s game against the Florida Panthers, the Caps had gotten only two goals from the bottom six and both had come in the season-opener. After seeing his team go down 4-1 against Florida, head coach Todd Reirden shuffled up the lines and it seemed to create a spark for the offense.

Reirden indicated Sunday he will stick with those lines and he kept them together for Monday’s morning skate:

Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Devante Smith-Pelly
Chandler Stephenson – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Jakub Vrana – Lars Eller – Brett Connolly
Dmitrij Jaskin – Nic Dowd – Andre Burakovsky

Vrana, Connolly and Smith-Pelly all scored after the change. Per the Caps’ PR team, the third line of Vrana, Eller and Connolly produced two goals, eight shot attempts and allowed just three shot attempts in over six minutes of five-on-five play.

Special teams

In addition to having the top offense in the NHL, the Caps also boast the top power play. With the extra man, the Caps are producing on 38.5-percent of their opportunities. That is most likely not a sustainable number, but it does show the power play is as good as ever.

The Canucks come into this game ranked eighth on the penalty kill at 83.9-percent and they will be the latest team to try and slow down a power play that is really starting to click with John Carlson seemingly developing into one of the top blue liners in the NHL.

Remember me?

Vancouver’s star rookie Elias Pettersson is still in concussion protocol and will not play in Monday’s game, but there is another talented youngster who will the Caps will need to watch out for in Brock Boeser.

Boeser was in a dead heat with New York Islanders forward Matt Barzal for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year last season before an injury forced him to miss the last month of the season.

In two career games against Washington, Boeser has recorded three assists. He has had a bit of a slower start to the season with five points thus far, but he is a dynamic talent who the Caps’ defense will have to account for.

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