The Capitals assigned Alex Alexeyev, Tobias Geisser, Brian Pinho (waivers), Aliaksei Protas, Mike Sgarbossa (waivers) and Mike Vecchione (waivers) to AHL Hershey on Tuesday. The assignments reduced the Capitals training camp roster to 27 players, further clarifying plans and intentions for their opening night roster, but it also leaves several remaining questions.
If Lars Eller is moved up to replace Nicklas Backstrom to center the second line, look for Connor McMichael or Hendrix LaPierre to assume Eller’s position on the third line. Eller has moved up to center the second line in the past when either Evgeny Kuznetsov or Nicklas Backstrom were out. McMichael’s 200 foot game is currently stronger than Lapierre’s, and defensive play of the third line is critical in Laviolette’s system.
Laviolette could prefer to keep his third line together and have McMichael or Lapierre fill-in Backstrom’s spot on the second line. There are a number of factors that play into this decision, as we detailed last week.
The most convenient route would have both players on the roster to start the season, to get some experience, while Backstrom is out. The downside of that is that one will be sitting on the bench. McMichael would be better served getting a full slate of games in Hershey. Lapierre would have to return to Acadie Bathurst in the QMJHL, which may or may not be beneficial to his development. Either way it would be good to get each player a few games of experience to start the season, travel with the team and learn the NHL ropes.
It’s interesting, but not surprising, that Garret Pilon and Beck Malenstyn are still in Capitals camp. It’s an indication of where the Capitals will go should there be an injury to the Capitals bottom six or center/forwards during the season. It appears Mike Sgarbossa will still be in the mix for callups, but it looks like Pilon has garnered top spot for those needs.
The final roster spots on the blueline are no more defined then they were at the start of training camp. Michal Kempny has struggled while knocking off the rust, and now the injury to Martin Fehervary in Monday night’s game against the Devils could complicate things further. (Fehervary is not on the roster for Wednesday night’s game).
As a result, the Capitals still have eight defensemen on their training camp roster. Matt Irwin, originally projected to be a blueliner in Hershey, has played well in the preseason, and will challenge Kempny and Fehervary for a starting spot. For now it could be down to Kempny or Irwin as the Capitals contemplate their final 23-man roster.
The Capitals training camp roster is now down to three netminders after assigning Pheonix Copley to Hershey. It will likely remain at three for as long as Ilya Samsonov deals with his lower body injury, but there could be an interesting side development.
After a topsy turvey 2020-21 season at the goaltender position, the Capitals have found a suitable third netminder in Zach Fucale. Don’t be surprised Fucale initially challenges Vitek Vanecek for backup time on the Capitals roster, either at the start of the season, or at some point during the season. Fucale went 9-2-0 with a .932 save percentage and a 1.80 GAA in the 2020-21 season, the best in the AHL.
Regardless of who gets the final two roster spots, the Capitals are in a good spot, should any of the craziness from last season begin to emerge during their 2021-22 campaign. I wouldn’t be shocked if all three goaltenders saw action for the Capitals this season.
THE FINAL COUNTDOWN
The Capitals will need to cut at least four more players and get under the league’s salary cap by 5:00 PM the day before opening night. Barring any injured reserve designations, the Capitals will likely cut one defenseman, one goaltender and two forwards, but salary cap may mandate a fifth player is cut. (The Capitals spent most of last season with 22 players on the active roster).
There are two preseason games remaining, which will hopefully yield further refinement to the Capitals opening night roster. Keep an eye on Vanecek, Fucale, Kempny and Irwin as they compete in the next two games. It should be added that Fucale, Pilon and Malenstyn will require to clear waivers to return to Hershey.
Live rounds begin to fly a week from tomorrow.
By Jon Sorensen