The Washington Capitals will be gunning for their fourth straight win when they take on the New York Islanders for the third game of their five-game homestand. Puck drop is set for 7PM.
Here are the projected lines for Thursday’s contest.
Alex Ovechkin – Dylan Strome – Tom Wilson
Sonny Milano – Evgeny Kuznetsov – T.J. Oshie
Anthony Mantha – Connor McMichael – Matthew Phillips
Beck Malenstyn – Hendrix Lapierre – Aliaksei Protas
Martin Fehervary – John Carlson
Rasmus Sandin – Trevor van Riemsdyk
Hardy Häman Aktell – Nick Jensen
Alex Alexeyev – Lucas Johansen
However, the Capitals (4-3-1) will have to face the Islanders without alternate captain Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom announced on Wednesday following practice that he will be stepping away from hockey due to health issues.
The 35-year-old underwent hip resurfacing surgery back in June 2022 and missed the first 42 games of last season. Coming into the 2023-24 season, he was very optimistic and said he felt 100% after a full summer of normal offseason training. However, his body has not responded the way he had hoped. Backstrom has one assist through eight games thus far.
“You just felt all the emotion from all his teammates, him, just telling them in a real, heartfelt way; you can tell he wants to continue to play and wants to be there for them right now and be battling through, but he just physically can’t right now,” Capitals head coach Spencer Carbery said on Wednesday. “When you see someone describing that to their brothers, it tugs at your heart. You know how much it means to him and how much all his teammates mean to him, so it was difficult.”
It is very difficult to replace a player like Backstrom, especially off the ice. Throughout his 17-year NHL career, the Swedish center has been described as a quiet leader, but also a powerful voice. Backstrom is the Capitals’ all-time assist leader and is second in franchise history with 1033 points.
“You’re not going to fill those shoes. So we need guys to step up and lead and in whatever way that they’re able to lead,” T.J. Oshie said. “It doesn’t have to be an old guy, it doesn’t have to be a guy that’s been in the league for six, seven years. It can be a young guy that leads by example by coming to the rink every day doing his job and then on the ice leading by example by knowing his assignments, doing them correctly and doing them hard. It’s gonna take everyone leadership wise to try to make up for not having 19.”
Carbery said that Oshie and Tom Wilson will be sharing the “A” on the jersey.
Connor McMichael will be at center for the first time this season. He has been playing on the left wing for the first eight games of the season and has been terrific. The Capitals wanted to see him start at the wing and get him to center at some point. But with No. 19’s absence, that opportunity is now. McMichael was a center with the Hershey Bears last season.
“I have liked him a lot on the left side this year, he’s had really good stretches through camp and hasn’t played much center. But I don’t think it’ll be a huge adjustment,” Carbery said. “Will there be maybe a game two, three, just little things of getting comfortable with it, for sure, but he’s played it his whole life. So there’s a few different things that I gave him some cues on, you need to when you’re adjusting from the wing to center.”
Meanwhile, Washington is still without center Nic Dowd, which means that Hendrix Lapierre will play his second game of the regular season, centering the fourth line with Beck Malenstyn and Aliaksei Protas. The 2020 first-round pick earned 7:28 of ice time against the San Jose Sharks.
Scouting New York
The Islanders (4-2-2) are coming off a tough 4-3 overtime loss against the Detroit Red Wings. New York had a 2-0 lead headed into the third period, but the Red Wings battled back and scored three unanswered goals, before they eventually won in overtime. The Islanders are one point ahead of the Caps in the division.
Semyon Varlamov will get the start for the Islanders. The Russian netminder played three seasons with the Capitals (2008-2011). This will be his third appearance of the season. He is currently 1-1-0 with a 1.51 goals-against average and a .961 save percentage.
Defenseman Noah Dobson is having a terrific start to the season, leading the Isles with nine points (two goals, seven assists) in eight games.
The Isles have given up just 2.88 goals per game, which is the eighth least in the NHL.
Player To Watch
Bo Horvat is coming off a two point night against Detroit and he is second on the team with seven points (four goals, three assists).
Puck drop is slated for 7 p.m. at Capital One Arena. The game can be streamed on Monumental Sports Network.
By Jacob Cheris