ARLINGTON, V.A. — It was a busy day for the Washington Capitals at MedStar Capitals Iceplex. With Alex Ovechkin still sidelined and day-to-day with a lower-body injury, Connor McMichael got a major opportunity.
The 20-year-old was filling in for the Capitals captain on the top-line left-wing, skating alongside Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson.
Hendrix Lapierre had filled in on the top-line LW in the Capitals’ win over Philadelphia after Alex Ovechkin left after being hurt following his hit on Travis Konecny.
“We’re going to talk about it, just what we saw today. I’ve talked to some of the veteran players, they like playing with these guys,” head coach Peter Laviolette said of the decision to put McMichael on the first line. “They’re young, they’re skilled, they’re talented… it’s just a starting point to see what it looks like. I thought he looked good on that line. He certainly didn’t look out of place.”
With Ovechkin in the lineup, McMichael had previously been interchanging with Lapierre as the third-line center between T.J. Oshie and Conor Sheary to help fill Nicklas Backstrom’s void. Backstrom is still rehabilitating a hip injury and at this point, seems unlikely to be available to start the season.
No. 19 gave an injury update at training camp, saying “we’re looking more at long-term than short term.”
“I have no timetable here. We’re just going to listen to the body and go slow,” Backstrom added, emphasizing patience. “We’ll see what happens. Hopefully, I’ll be back skating soon.”
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In regards to Ovechkin’s status, teammate Lars Eller said he’s “never seen [the Russian Machine] break.”
“I would not be surprised if he’s back for game one. He always, for some ready he never seems to be out for long, even, you know, whatever he’s been dealing with,” Eller said. “He does not like to miss games like he does not want to take the game off, he wants to play. So if there’s any chance he can, he’ll be out there and I hope he will be.”
Head coach Peter Laviolette said the injury is not long-term and that it’s possible that Ovechkin suits up for the season opener.
McMichael looked decent on that top line, active and skating hard in the drills and communicating well with Kuznetsov and Wilson.
Laviolette said that was one possible combination that also rose out of not wanting to break up chemistry on the other lines. He said that trio is subject to change.
Meanwhile, Lapierre remained as the third-line center. Right now, that appears to be the main opening in the lineup, but given the injury to Ovechkin, this appears to be more experimentation to see how both of those guys fare at wing. When the Russian returns, I expect the interchange to go back as both compete for that position in the lineup.
READ MORE ON WHN: Lapierre, McMichael Maintain Strong Bond Amid Capitals Competition
In regards to Lapierre’s play, the 19-year-old was working hard along the boards to win puck battles and improving on his physicality. His skating continues to impress, as he moves seamlessly on the ice and continues to showcase his speed.
On the blue line, Martin Fehervary continues to skate on the top pairing with John Carlson. Laviolette praised the Slovak blueliner’s performance alongside No. 74 on Friday. Meanwhile, Trevor van Riemsdyk continues to get reps in on the left side and was paired with Justin Schultz.
Here were the full lines on Sunday:
Connor McMichael-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Tom Wilson
Anthony Mantha-Lars Eller-Daniel Sprong
Conor Sheary-Hendrix Lapierre-T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin-Nic Dowd-Garnet Hathaway
Martin Fehervary-John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov-Nick Jensen
Trevor van Riemsdyk-Justin Schultz
Vitek Vanecek/Ilya Samsonov/Zach Fucale
With the preseason over, these final days of camp will be interesting with final roster spots on the line. From the sound of it, the team will make more decisions come Tuesday after more evaluation at Monday’s practice.
Washington’s made a couple of notable moves and decisions so far, including sending Michal Kempny down to Hershey as he continues to work toward a full-time return to game action following three significant injuries to his left leg and two major surgeries over the last few years.
“This is a guy that’s had a good career and has been dealt a couple of tough injuries, and he’s missed a lot of time. As he comes back through our camp, we’ve got to evaluate things and put pieces in place. We really feel like it’s important that he plays and that he finds his game and gets his game back… right now, if he’s not in our top six, that means he’s not playing, and I just don’t feel like that does him any good.
So, we’ll find out at 2 p.m. We’re hoping he’s still ours. If somebody takes him, then he’ll be able to get out there and continue playing and get his game back to where he wants it be and he’s comfortable with. If he remains ours, which we’re hoping, he gets to get on with playing games and play a lot of minutes and really work on that and try to find that groove back to where it was back a few years ago when he was a big part of this team.”