Here are the projected lines from Wednesday’s optional morning skate:
Alex Ovechkin – Dylan Strome – Matthew Phillips
Connor McMichael – Evgeny Kuznetsov – T.J. Oshie
Sonny Milano – Nicklas Backstrom – Tom Wilson
Beck Malenstyn – Aliaksei Protas – Anthony Mantha
Martin Fehervary – John Carlson
Rasmus Sandin – Trevor van Riemsdyk
Lucas Johansen – Nick Jensen
Hunter Shepard will be making his first career NHL start. He was called up on Tuesday to the big club and backed up Darcy Kuemper.
Shepard led the Hershey Bears to their 12th Calder Cup championship and is currently 2-0-0 with a 2.88 goals-against average and a .885 save percentage. Charlie Lindgren is still ailing from an upper-body injury and the Caps wanted to give the Minnesota Duluth product the opportunity to play in the NHL.
“Shep has earned that opportunity to be the number three in our organization. And so that’s just frankly, the reason he wasn’t originally was just because he wasn’t available medically. So now that he has played a couple games, he’s back to 100%. We just moved back,” Capitals head coach Spencer Carbery said. “It’s not a great decision to put someone in a vulnerable spot, meaning [Kuemper] in a back-to- back this early in the season. So [Lindgren’s] misfortune is Shep’s opportunity to step in and play in the NHL. It’s great. He’s earned every inch of what he’s gotten in his career, and he’s continued to prove people wrong at every single level.”
Kuemper allowed four goals on 17 shots against Toronto. The Maple Leafs scored three unanswered goals in the second period and two out of their four goals came on the man-advantage. The penalty kill has continued to struggle, sitting at 68.2%, and New Jersey currently boasts the league’s best power play at 44%.
“When you give other teams an opportunity to go on the power play, eventually it’s going to end up in your net,” Tom Wilson said postgame. “I think as a whole we just got to find a way to build momentum and tilt the ice our way.”
Alex Ovechkin seemed to have found his groove offensively. He scored his first goal of the year against the Leafs on the power play, which was the 300th PPG of his career, and now has points in three straight games. The Capitals captain had 14 shots on goal against Toronto which was one shot short of his career high.
“I think we played the right way, but you know that period of time when we have to fight through it and don’t be panicking, don’t be frustrated,” Ovechkin said postgame. “It’s just a part of the process. I think we just have to play hard and it goes in.”
However despite the Caps racking up a season high 37 shots on goal, they have still struggled to finish on their chances. They are dead last in the NHL scoring 1.20 goals per game.
The Capitals have posted a 4.4% shooting percentage so far this year, their lowest ever through their first five games of a season and just the third time they’ve been held under 7%, per @Sportradar. League average is 10%. Some historically bad puck luck playing a role here.
— Matt Weyrich (@ByMattWeyrich) October 25, 2023
“It’s the same old story with finding ways to lose hockey games and that in the National Hockey League. Like you have to figure it out,” Carbery said after Tuesday’s loss. “You can do all the good things you want structurally. There’s a lot of good things that are going on, no question we did. But at the end of the day, if we want to be a good team in this league, you got to find ways to win as opposed to finding ways to lose.”
Scouting New Jersey
The Devils (3-1-1) are also on the back-half of a back-to-back slate. On Tuesday they defeated the Montreal Canadiens 5-2 on the road.
Jack Hughes has shot out of a cannon to start the year, racking up 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) in just five games. He had four assists against Montreal.
Furthermore, Jesper Bratt continues to build off his breakout season last year. So far he is second on the team with nine points (three goals, six assists).
Akira Schmid is the projected starter for New Jersey after Vitek Vanecek got the win in Montreal stopping 27 of 29 shots. Schmid is currently 1-0-1 through two starts with a 3.30 goals-against average and a .892 save percentage.
Player to Watch
Tyler Toffoli has been a fantastic addition to this fast New Jersey team. He had a hat trick in Tuesday’s affair against the Habs and has six points (four goals, two assists) in five games.
The Capitals will take on the Devils at 7:30 p.m. at Prudential Center. The game will be broadcasted nationally on TNT.
By Jacob Cheris