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.