Screenshot: Washington Capitals
With the long-awaited return of lineup stalwarts Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson in a 1-0 shutout of the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday, the Washington Capitals were forced to do some shuffling to their roster to make space for two of their most important players. Head Coach Peter Laviolette discussed these changes and more in his post-practice press conference at MedStar Capitals Iceplex before the team departed for Philadelphia.
With the changes made by the team to accommodate Wilson and Backstrom’s insertion back into the lineup, Laviolette and the Caps’ coaching staff are now tasked with finding the right line combinations to ingratiate the two stars’ back into game shape as they continue to find their legs after such a lengthy recovery process for their respective injuries.
“Because of the changes of the two guys coming back”, Laviolette said of the different line combinations during practice, “Trying to keep some things the same, and focus more on pairs you know, Kuzy [Evgeny Kuznetsov] and Ovi [Alex Ovechkin], Dowder [Nic Dowd] and Hath [Garnet Hathaway] although Jojo’s [Marcus Johansson] played well on that line as well. Backy [Backstrom] and Oshie have played together. Just trying to find something that has some history to it, and then trying to find the right piece to go with it.”
Laviolette admitted that the Capitals’ one-goal showing against the Blue Jackets spurred the decision to try and produce more offensive production.
“It’s just we come out of the one game, and I didn’t think it was as pressing as I would have liked to seen offensively, so we’ll move it around and try to keep some pairs the same, but move it around and try to find the right pieces to go with that.”
Among those players impacted by the return of Backstrom and Wilson is Anthony Mantha, who was healthy scratched for the team’s game against Columbus. The key return piece in the Jakub Vrana trade to Detroit, Mantha has struggled to produce in the top-six and appears to be heading for a second straight game in the press box.
“I talked to him, and he’s frustrated, as he should be”, Laviolette responded when asked about Mantha, “If you’re in this room you want to play. And he’ll get back in there, I thought he had a good practice today.”
“These decisions are tough, I talked to the players about it today. [Aube-Kubel] didn’t do anything to come out of the lineup except score two goals in two games…These are tough decisions and it will change and I’ve had conversations with the players saying ‘you know if it does change you can come talk to me. There may be no specific reason why you’re coming out of the lineup other than we wanna keep everybody active and moving.’ What kept us in there at the beginning of the year, that depth we signed was able to keep us in the mix. Now that we’re starting to add players back, it puts extra players in the mix and so it doesn’t necessarily, three games from now if somebody sits, no reason to ask me ‘what he did do wrong?’ just we’ve got to balance 14 good players.”
The return of Backstrom and Wilson to the Capitals’ game day lineup was met with uproarious excitement from the Capitals faithful in attendance at Capital One Arena, and both players expressed their emotions before, during, and after the game.
“That was a lot the other night”, said the Caps’ bench boss of the atmosphere surrounding their return, “The biggest bang for us came when the announcement of the three stars up front, and the building was juiced up and ready to go. But I think just getting through that game, for all of them, for our team it was big to have those players back.”
“It was their first time, and I think that now that they’ve gone through it they continue to get practices, they play tomorrow and then come back and play against Philly again, and then they play more, the more reps they get, the more comfortable they get with their game, five-on-five, power play, and penalty kill. So we will eventually start to work Tom back into the penalty kill. Penalty kill did a great job winning a game for us the other night. So there’s no real need to jump him in there in the first shift, but we’ll find him an opportunity…once his confidence starts to grow that’s when you start to take on more minutes.”
To listen to Laviolette’s full presser, see below.
The team is back in action tomorrow against the Philadelphia Flyers. Puck drop is set for 7PM.
By Michael Fleetwood