Washington Capitals head coach Todd Reirden told the media on Wednesday that being without center Nicklas Backstrom, who has missed the past three games due to an undisclosed injury suffered in Game 1 of their first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series against the New York Islanders, and having a lack of uniform lineup of centers is “definitely is a challenge but that’s part of the hand you’re dealt, and injuries are part of the game.”
“Backstrom is a special player and has a huge impact in the room, on the ice, how he goes about his day, the confidence he gives our team, and he’s a huge part of that leadership group,” he added. Reirden told the media that he skated on Wednesday “as an extra” and will be “game-time decision” for Game 5 on Thursday. He could not comment when asked if the 32-year-old has been cleared yet.
“We knew coming into the tournament we could have a lot of this,” Reirden said referring to injuries and absences when asked about the Capitals’ current situation as they are trailing the series 3-1 entering Game 5.
After captain Alex Ovechkin‘s two-goal Game 4 with the Capitals facing elimination, Reirden described him as “a generational talent on the ice. … He’s amazing at what he does, not just scoring goals but other things. … He will likely go down as the best goal-scorer ever. … His leadership has grown immensely.”
Reirden felt that “we put ourselves in a tough spot where we didn’t deserve to win the first three games. [Tuesday] night was the first game that we put the work in, put enough effort and commitment in. He was a leader in that department in terms of what he said and how he went about it, and that’s what has to be matched to give ourselves a chance to continue in this tournament.”
On the Capitals getting goals from only three players (Ovechkin: four, center Evgeny Kuznetsov: two, forward T.J. Oshie: two) during this series, Reirden said that “one of the things that allowed us to gain more belief … was seeing the results of what we were doing. … We put the work in and finally saw some results.”
Reirden thought that forward Jakub Vrana, who is without a point and is a -7 in seven Stanley Cup Playoff games, “had more chances” in Game 4 and thought that “early in the series, he was not getting those chances, adding, “I have confidence in [him].”
When asked about whether Game 4 provided a blueprint or the team needs more adjustments, Reirden thought that “we went into the game with the idea that our structure needed to improve, our execution needed to improve in some areas …and ultimately was the work ethic. … We had to match the work ethic of the [Islanders].”
“Because we were able to spend more time in the offensive zone, now we were able to get more to our game and get more to our blueprint about how you can fatigue another team and eventually break them,” Reirden thought. “And now it’s on us. It’s on us to continue to build on what we accomplished in Game 4 and worry about winning the next game. That’s all we’re worrying about is the next day and the next game and continuing to build.”
The Capitals return to the ice Thursday trialing 3-1 in the series and trying to fend off elimination for a second time.
By Harrison Brown