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Sanford held off the scoresheet, but shows potential in return from Hershey

Sanford held off the scoresheet, but shows potential in return from Hershey

After recording only one point in his first 19 games in the NHL, Zach Sanford's mission in his return to the Capitals seemed relatively simple: Generate points. He was unable to do that on Saturday in Washington's 2-1 loss to Montreal, but he did show flashes of what Barry Trotz hoped he could bring to the lineup in his return from the AHL.

“I think the trip down to Hershey was helpful for me," Sanford said following Saturday's loss. "With my skills and just the little plays, I think coming back tonight I felt pretty good.”

Sanford scored four goals and three assists in six games with the Bears, showing an offensive flair that was absent in his first tour with the Capitals. But his return came against a tough Montreal team that smothered the Caps’ offense on Saturday.

The Canadiens held Washington to only 21 shots on goal, far too easy a workload for Carey Price, arguably the best goalie in the NHL.

Skating on the third line with Lars Eller and Jakub Vrana, Sanford did not record a shot on goal.

RELATED: CAPS' WIN STREAK CLIPPED BY CANADIENS IN NARROW LOSS

After the game, Sanford said generating shots on goal was “a big focus for me” and that getting shots through the defense was one of the biggest challenges of the NHL as compared to the AHL. That was evident Saturday as all three of Sanford’s shot attempts on the night were blocked.

Sanford also noted the speed of the game in the NHL.

“You get a lot less time here when you get the puck. [In the AHL] you might be able to take an extra stride or move the puck just a little bit more, but here it's bang-bang. You've got to get it off quick.”

But while the scoring opportunities weren’t there Saturday for Sanford, they were there for Vrana who seemed to have an instant chemistry with the fellow rookie on the third line.

“I think it could be a good thing,” Sanford said. “[Vrana’s] a shooter first and I'm kind of a passer first and I think we both play with speed and he's a really skilled player. I think if we keep working together I think it'll work out nicely.”

Head coach Barry Trotz offered a lukewarm review of Sanford's night, calling his performance “fine.".

“I looked at his game and I can't say he wowed me or anything and I can't say that he did anything poorly. But that was our team a little bit, they were just not quick enough tonight.”

For a rookie straight out of college looking for an offensive spark in his return to the NHL, playing against Price and the Canadiens was perhaps too tall a task. But while his performance didn’t generate any points on Saturday, it did leave enough for him to build on going forward andk, for a rookie who was in need of a confidence boost, that’s what’s most important for him at this point.

Sanford’s lack of production through the first 19 games was negatively affecting his play. That was not the case on Saturday.

Now with budding chemistry between him and Vrana and a greater appreciation for the speed with which he needs to work with at the NHL level, Sanford showed Saturday that the offensive potential is there.

Now he just needs to keep his confidence up until the points come.

“It's tough to lose, but personally I felt pretty good and my legs felt good,” Sanford said. “I was making some plays with the puck. Obviously there's a couple plays I'd like to have back, but overall I thought it went pretty well.”

MORE CAPITALS: BEAGLE: NHL TEAMS ARE CUTTING OFF PUCK CYCLING

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Alex Ovechkin teaching his son hockey might be the most adorable thing ever

Alex Ovechkin teaching his son hockey might be the most adorable thing ever

The Capitals had an off day on Sunday ahead of their Monday matchup with the Columbus Blue Jackets, giving the opportunity for Alex Ovechkin to spend some time with his son.

Sergei and his dad came across a baby hockey stick and Ovechkin decided to teach his son a few moves.

The 2035 NHL mock drafts have yet to be released, but we have an early pick for No. 1…

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Backstrom's back: Caps will get their top center back for Monday's game

Backstrom's back: Caps will get their top center back for Monday's game

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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