Screen cap: @Capitals
The Washington Capitals’ opening night matchup against the New York Rangers is just two days away and after making more roster moves earlier today, the team is getting closer to finalizing their lineup for the highly-anticipated contest against the Rangers. Head Coach Peter Laviolette touched on a number of topics in a meeting with the press, including the status of both Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.
Ovechkin was injured during the team’s final preseason game on October 8, and while it would be ideal if the Capitals’ captain would start the season on October 13, “it is still day-to-day” on whether the 2004 first overall pick will be available to start the season.
Backstrom, who is recovering from a hip injury, has still not taken the ice, and his recovery timetable is, “a process…that is week-to-week”, though Laviolette said that Backstrom is improving in his recuperation.
“You’re always thinking about that”, said Laviolette of dealing with the possibility of Ovechkin being absent to start the season, “Things are moving, parts are moving, and pieces are moving. There’ll probably be some announcements later on as we make announcements and make moves today and make moves tomorrow to get to the point where we actually have the roster we’re looking for for opening night”.
The team’s starting goaltender has yet to be decided.
“We’re still looking at that as well. I haven’t internally named a goaltender so I’m probably not going to name it here first without talking to the goalies and going through that process”, the Caps’ second-year bench boss admitted. “They’re both competing, they both want the opportunity, somebody’s gonna start and get an opportunity and we’ll go from there”.
The Caps’ 2020 first-round pick Hendrix Lapierre surprised some with his longevity through multiple roster cuts at just 19-years old. During practice on Monday, Lapierre saw time on the second power play unit.
“I think he’s done a good job on the power play, in general in the games too”, Laviolette said, “He’s poised, he’s skilled and he’s poised. I think sometimes young players come into those situations and they’re overwhelmed by it or they lose who they are as a player and even out there today you noticed him moving the pucks along the half-wall and the little plays that he makes and the things he sees on the ice.”
Lapierre’s play during training camp has not gone unnoticed by his coaches or his teammates. “We see it as well as his line-mates see it, guys that play with him like T.J. Oshie they like playing with him because he can see what’s going on and he has the ability to make those plays”.
Lapierre’s willingness to learn and improve are a few qualities that has impressed the Capitals’ bench boss in camp. “He’s constantly looking to learn. His faceoffs weren’t good at first and so he spends his time now taking faceoffs and listening and I think the assistant coaches have done a good job of trying to teach and show him areas and things he can be better at”.
Lapierre’s “compete level” and willingness to “not give an inch” has also impressed through camp, which led to the potential of making the team’s Opening Night roster.
The Capitals were the NHL’s oldest team last season and enter the 2021-22 season once again enter the new campaign as one of the league’s most veteran clubs. “I think it’s changing”, Laviolette remarked, on the narrative that the Caps are an aging team that is heading in the wrong direction.
“We were somewhere yesterday as a group, and I’m thinking the same thing you just said. I’m looking through the entire team and I’m looking and there’s somebody that’s a teenager, somebody that’s 22, somebody that’s 24, two goalies that are 25 or less. You start to add those pieces up and it’s seven or eight pieces that are under the age of 25. There’s still a really good core here, a veteran core, that has carried and made the way for this organization for a lot of years and there’s still really good players”.
Right Wing Tom Wilson expressed his opinion that having young players on a team adds a boost of energy to the locker room. “It’s good, it definitely changes it a little bit. It’s fun to watch these guys”, agreed Laviolette, “They’re talented, they’re fast, they’re young. It brings a different feel to the room”.
“That would be a good choice”, assessed the Capitals’ bench boss, when asked of T.J. Oshie’s potential to be an influence on Lapierre, “Osh is a true professional when he plays the game, when he practices, and how he lives his life and so that’s a good person to keep your eyes on”. Oshie and Lapierre have played together a number of times in camp and in preseason action, with Oshie complimenting the teenager’s play and performance in games and in camp.
While the likes of Ovechkin and Backstrom have been notable for helping to carry the Capitals during the regular season, the ability of other players to step up is just as important, with Laviolette iterating his confidence in his players to step up.
“The players that have been here while I have been here, have stepped up. You look at a guy like Conor Sheary, who moved in from the taxi squad last year, or you look at the responsibility that I give to the Dowd line, you look at how evenly we play all our defenseman. Special Teams often dictates minutes a little bit but we don’t hide anybody, we think we’ve got good defenseman and the contributions come from everywhere”.
Laviolette cited the 2020-21 season as an example of players keeping the “next man up” mentality and giving “talented players and people in the room” a chance to step up and play an elevated role.
The Capitals open the 2021-22 season on October 13 at 7:30 PM EST on TNT.
Hear from Head Coach Laviolette who spoke with the media earlier this afternoon to provide updates on the statuses of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, plus more.#ALLCAPS | @Socios pic.twitter.com/oCyw5GGun7
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) October 11, 2021