Peter Laviolette on Managing the Lineup Upon Return of Key Players, Sitting Anthony Mantha: “He’ll Get Back in There, These Decisions Are Tough”

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

About Michael Fleetwood

Michael Fleetwood was born into a family of diehard Capitals fans and has been watching games as long as he can remember. He was born the year the Capitals went to their first Stanley Cup Final, and is a diehard Caps fan, the owner of the very FIRST Joe Beninati jersey and since then, has met Joe himself. Michael joined the NoVa Caps team in 2015, and is most proud of the growth of the NoVa Caps community in that time. An avid photographer, Michael resides in VA.
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14 Responses to Peter Laviolette on Managing the Lineup Upon Return of Key Players, Sitting Anthony Mantha: “He’ll Get Back in There, These Decisions Are Tough”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Detroit and Stevy Y could never motivate Mantha. I’m not holding out a lot of hope here.

  2. Anonymous says:

    It’s amazing how Vrana and Mantha have the same issues. You gotta believe Yzerman and MacLellan just said “why not”. It’s not working here, let’s flip and see what happens.

    • KimRB says:

      Obviously they swapped one malcontent for another. And I’m sure there was a good discussion about the respective players’ issues. Only problem is we had to give up a #1 and #2 picks to get our malcontent. And that #1pick was eventually used by Dallas to select Wyatt Johnston, who is now the Dallas 3rd line center, at the tender age of 19. I’d say there’s little chance of HIM being a malcontent. Looks like he’ll be a reliable, mature player for the next 20 years. Oh, what we missed out on

      • Anonymous says:

        What a silly argument. The Caps drafted McMichael and Lapierre with their firsts in 2019 and 2020, and no defensemen at all in 2020.

        “I thought maybe where we were picking, there might be defensemen that were going to be available,” says Caps assistant general manager Ross Mahoney, the engineer of the Washington drafts for the last quarter of a century. “We’ve always said that we’ll take the best player, but I think that it was good too to get some defensemen, and the first couple are right-handed defensemen, which I think also helps to fill a bit of a void that we have, as far as young defensemen.”

        Even if the Caps hadn’t have traded the pick, they were almost assuredly drafting D. Owen Power (1) and JJ Moser (60) are the only D drafted in 2021 who are currently playing in the NHL.

        • KimRB says:

          So you think it was a smart move to trade the pick for a floater, because they only wanted to draft D? So instead of loading up on talented centers, and possibly trading one in the future for a D, you trade the pick for a WING, and a subpar one at that??? You draft the best player available, not trade the pick because a position of need is unavailable.

          If you believe that’s smart, you’re the one that’s silly.

          What’s with all the snark lately? Can’t anyone here simply disagree in a polite manner anymore? Christmas vacation is over, kiddies. School is back in session.

          • Anonymous says:

            That’s not what i said, but feel free to extrapolate arguments to suit your fancy.

            • KimRB says:

              So then what were you saying? That they were only going to draft D? OK, fair enough, but if that’s your point, then you missed mine. And mine was that they missed a chance at drafting a mature and talented NHL center, to trade the pick for a wing. Drafting the center would have been a better idea, whether they needed him, or not.

              • Anonymous says:

                You’re projecting based on your impression that somehow Johnston would not only be on the roster, but would be starting and making an impact. McMichael has a higher ceiling and can’t crack the roster full time.

                Maybe Caps should have gotten Kucherov or Gibson or Danault in 2011 instead of trading for Brouwer. 🤷

        • KimRB says:

          PS If the Caps were truly only going to draft D, they should have kept the pick till the draft, then traded down. Say they trade the puck for a 2nd and 3rd. That way, along with picks Iorio and Johnson, they get another 2nd and another 3rd. Enough to draft plenty of D. Instead they gave it, and a 2nd, and Vrana, away for a subpar wing. DUM DEE DUM DUM

      • dwgie26 says:

        The first round pick we gave up in that trade was so Detroit would pick up Panik Cap hit off of our books. Arguably the second as well (or a portion of it). Otherwise it was Mantha for Vrana.

        And it would have been our pick (not Detroits) so in the 15-20 range. Owen Power would have been long gone. But really we were trying to clear cap space and eliminate risk of arbitration with Vrana who might have been as much as Mantha for a player not wanted.

  3. dwgie26 says:

    First, great use of the work ingratiate. Love that!

    One thing i have noticed with Lavi this year is that he is being a lot more transparent with the media. No more of the “we’re working through some things in the room”. He just says it. Like the acknowledgement from both Mantha (said he needs to work harder) and the confidence from Lavi saying he’ll get back in there while also noting that Mantha should be frustrated. No bad mouthing, but being direct.

    Lavi also mentioned talking to the players and that is a big thing we can’t see. How does he message. How do players react to it.

    feels like he has control in the room and that players and coach are aligned. May not be happy/satisfied, but aligned. I deal with that all day, every day professionally. Clear and direct communication breeds success.

  4. James W Lewis says:

    This Mantha situation is reminding me of Dainius Zubrus from years ago. He had great size and speed and was greatly coveted. A 1st round pick, he played in DC at the beginning of the Ovechkin era. Despite his physical attributes, he never developed into an impact player. Many teams tried, but 45-50 points and 20 or so goals was all there was. He had a long career because just looking at him made everyone think he could be a star. I hate to give up on Mantha for the same reasons, but I hate to spend too much when our expectations are just too high.

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