With the playoff push in full swing with just a few games remaining in the 2021-22 regular season, the Washington Capitals kick off a weekend back-to-back with a matinee matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
As has been the case on a couple of occasions this season, Washington will be without a key forward as an apparent bug makes its way through the locker room. Conor Sheary, who missed Friday’s practice with a non-COVID illness, did not travel with the team and will be out for Saturday’s game, per Mike Vogel. Garnet Hathaway, who was ill and missed Wednesday’s game against Tampa Bay, will draw back into the lineup.
Given Sheary’s absence, the team will likely see the same lines it was working with back at Friday’s practice. Connor McMichael remained in the mix, working at 3C while Lars Eller moved to the fourth-line wing. Hathaway, meanwhile, drew in for Sheary on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
Here are what the combinations looked like:
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Garnet Hathaway
Anthony Mantha-Nicklas Backstrom-Tom Wilson
Marcus Johansson-Connor McMichael-T.J. Oshie
Lars Eller-Nic Dowd-Johan Larsson
Martin Fehervary-John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov-Nick Jensen
Trevor van Riemsdyk-Justin Schultz
Peter Laviolette is also going with Ilya Samsonov between the pipes. Samsonov stood tall back on Wednesday, coming up with a couple of big stops en route to a key 4-3 victory over the Lightning to end a small skid for Washington. He is one win away from 50 in his career. Given Samsonov will start Saturday, Vitek Vanecek will likely get Sunday’s game against the Boston Bruins.
The Capitals (38-22-10) have a major opportunity to close the gap and move within four points of the Penguins (41-21-10), who sit third in the Metro Division. Washington has lost two of its last three, while the Pens have dropped three straight games and most recently got shut out 3-0 in New York. This entire weekend could shake up the Eastern Conference playoff picture, and a win would be key for Washington with just 12 games left in the campaign.
When it comes to names to watch, look out for John Carlson. No. 74 is coming off a four-point performance that also saw him score two additional goals that were waved off. Evgeny Kuznetsov also has points in 14 of his last 15 games and Alex Ovechkin hit 43 goals on the season and 1,400 career points back on Wednesday.
On the Penguins’ side, Jake Guentzel has points in three of his last four games. Evan Rodrigues also has points in four of his last six.