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Trotz: Backstrom eyeing return for season opener

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Trotz: Backstrom eyeing return for season opener

News, notes and quotes as the Capitals prepare for Game 3 of their seven-game preseason Thursday night in Montreal against the Canadiens:

Backstrom getting closer: Capitals coach Barry Trotz opened up the possibility of center Nicklas Backstrom playing in the team’s season opener on  Oct. 10, saying his recovery from offseason hip surgery is tracking well.

“I think he’s got in his mind he’s going to be ready for opening night,” Trotz told reporters on Wednesday. “We’ll see. I don’t doubt him. He’s the only one who knows his body. He’s doing extra stuff and I don’t doubt anything Nick Backstrom says.”

In other injury news, Trotz said he expects defenseman Brooks Orpik (wrist surgery) to start shooting pucks soon and said it’s reasonable to expect him to see preseason action. Marcus Johansson (wrenched back) will not play in Thursday night’s game in Montreal but could see his first preseason game on Monday night. Center Michael Latta (lower body) is also listed at day-to-day and is expected to return during the exhibition season.

Roy vs. Stephenson: Trotz confirmed to reporters that if Backstrom is unable to start the season the battle for the vacant center spot could come down to 32-year-old veteran Derek Roy and 21-year-old Chandler Stephenson.

Trotz said he was impressed with Roy in the preseason opener and was equally impressed with Stephenson in Tuesday night’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Bruins, when he logged 16:52 of ice time, including 58 seconds on the power play and 1:52 on the penalty kill. Stephenson also won 8 of 10 faceoffs.

“I told him, ‘I think you should believe you can make this team because you’re close,’” Trotz said. “I told him to go out and grab a job. He’s a natural centerman with a good release. He plays a cerebral game. You’re not going to see him flying 100 miles an hour. … I definitely think he’s capable of playing in the National Hockey League.”

On the flip side, Trotz said the Caps like what they’ve heard about the leadership qualities of Roy, who helped Oilers forward Nail Yakupov turn his season around in Edmonton last season.

If Roy makes the Capitals he would probably need to agree to a contract close to the NHL minimum of $575,000. Stephenson has two years remaining on a contract that pays him $725,833 if he plays in the NHL.

First cuts: The Caps have have released Trevor Cox, Tim McGauley and Keoni Texeira from their training camp roster, but have kept defenseman Connor Hobbs, a fifth-round pick in the 2015 NHL draft who has played well throughout training camp. Hobbs impressed the Capitals' coaches and scouting staff during the four-team Florida rookie tournament. He is expected to return to his junior team in Regina, Saskatchewan later this week.

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Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Coach Barry Trotz indicated that Andre Burakovsky’s benching wouldn’t last long.

And it didn’t.

The 23-year-old winger will return to the lineup on Monday night as the Caps look to stave off elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final.

During the morning skate, Burakovsky skated on the third line with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly—a trio that’s enjoyed some success in the past.

It’s been a difficult postseason for Burakovsky, who has not recorded a point in six games. He missed 10 contests after suffering a hand injury in Game 2 of the first round that required minor surgery.

What he found out upon returning was this: coming back from injury in the regular season is hard...and it’s exponentially tougher in the playoffs.

“It’s definitely tough to jump in in the semifinal,” he said. “When you’re out, you just want to get in and help the team and do what you’re good at—score goals and produce.”

“What I realized is that it’s not that easy,” he added. “I really thought I could jump in and just play like I did before I got injured. 

But obviously it didn’t work out as well I thought it would.”  

Burakovsky also said that he’s planning to work with a sports psychologist this summer in an effort to maintain an even keel when things aren’t going as well as he would like. It’s a problem that he said he’s struggled with since his childhood.

Asked what he hopes to see from Burakovsky in Game 6, Coach Barry Trotz kept it simple: offense.

The Caps have scored just two goals in each of the last three games, with Evgeny Kuznetsov contributing 50-percent of that total.

“He’s a guy that’s given us some good offense all through his time here,” Trotz said of Burakovsky. “We think that he can add some of that.”

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5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

The more you look at Monday's Game 6 between the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning, the more you realize this game is the most important game of Alex Ovechkin's career.

This is the first time Ovechkin and Co. have made it to the conference finals and it is the first time this postseason in which the Caps face elimination.

Here are the keys for the Caps to staving off elimination and forcing a Game 7:

1. Get off to a better start

It took Tampa Bay just 19 seconds to score in Game 5 and the score was 3-0 nothing before the Capitals really began to show any signs of life. They cannot allow the Lightning to jump all over them in the same way and take the crowd out of the game early.

With the game being in Washington, the Caps will have the crowd on their side. Use it.

The Caps have been at their best this series playing the trap, holding their own blue line and countering against Tampa Bay's aggressive defensemen leading to odd-man breaks. That's a hard gameplan to run if you're playing from behind. Scoring first would go a long way for Washington.

2. Stay out of the penalty box

Washington has given up six power play goals to Tampa Bay on just 15 opportunities in this series. That means the Lightning's power play is producing at a blistering rate of 40-percent. That's an insanely good power play rate and that may be putting it mildly.

So far, the penalty kill has had no answer for how to shut down a Tampa Bay unit that features Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov setting up for one-timers and being quarterbacked by Victor Hedman. That's a formidable cast.

If you can't beat it, then there's only one solution: Stay out of the box.

Despite everything that went wrong in Game 5, the one thing the Caps did right was not give up many penalties. They took only one on the night and even that one was avoidable as Brett Connolly got caught holding Brayden Point trying to get around him to get the puck.

3. Win the top line matchup

The Lightning have found success matching their fourth line against Ovechkin. Of his six points this series, only two of them (one goal, one assist) have come at 5-on-5. That's not good enough.

It's gut check time. The Caps need their best players to be at their best and that means Ovechkin has to win the matchup against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan. In Game 5, Tampa Bay's fourth line actually outscored Ovechkin's line in 5-on-5 play 2-0.

Washington will not win this game if the fourth line outscores Ovechkin's line. It's just that simple.

4. Take advantage of the power play opportunities

The Caps scored at least one power play goal in Game 1 and Game 2, both wins. They have not scored any since and have lost all three games since. They scored on three of seven opportunities in the first two games and zero of seven opportunities in the last three.

Not a coincidence.

Granted, they did not draw any penalties in Game 5, but it seems unlikely the Lightning will stay out of the box for another sixty minutes. At some point, they will take a penalty and when they do, Washington must take advantage.

5. Win the goalie matchup

Not much attention has been paid to Braden Holtby in this series. The Caps are not facing elimination because they have been getting bad goaltending, but when the Lightning needed Andrei Vasilevskiy to steal them a win and up his game to get them back into the series, he responded.

Vasilevskiy has been brilliant the last three games as he has turned aside 100 of the 106 shots he has faced for a .943 save percentage. For the series, Holtby has a save percentage of only .883.

Again, Washington is not down 3-2 in the series because of goaltending. Holtby has faced far fewer shots than Vasilevskiy and has been just about the only thing that has worked against Tampa Bay's lethal power play.

But as one of the team's top players, the Caps need Holtby to step up the way Vasilevskiy has. Game 6 will be about winning by any means necessary. If that means they need a hat trick from Ovechkin so be it. If that means they need Holtby to steal it for them, so be it.

Holtby has to be just as good as Vasilevskiy in Game 6, if not better, for Washington to come out on top.

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