The Washington Capitals will look to get back in the win column as they return from the road to play host to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday. Not only that, but they’ll continue to battle through injuries, with three top-6 forwards unavailable.
Anthony Mantha underwent successful shoulder surgery and will be out indefinitely. He joins T.J. Oshie (week-to-week, lower-body) on the injured reserve, and Nicklas Backstrom remains on the long-term injured reserve. He is still skating on his own in full gear but is taking things slow and steady as he continues to rehabilitate from a hip injury. Backstrom is eligible to come off the LTIR, but he has yet to skate with the team and still has to ease back into contact and full-intensity drills.
The Capitals have 12 healthy forwards remaining on the roster right now and are excited to see how they’ll respond to the circumstances.
“It’s a good challenge for our group,” head coach Peter Laviolette said, adding, “It’s not something that you like to see, but our guys are going to have to step up…[there is] opportunity for somebody to take on some minutes or jump on a power play and contribute. Nothing changes for us.”
READ MORE ON WHN: Mantha Out Indefinitely After Successful Shoulder Surgery
One player that is looking to capitalize on that opportunity: Hendrix Lapierre. The 19-year-old made the opening night roster after a strong training camp but has been a healthy scratch with Connor McMichael faring well at center. Now, with Mantha out, Lapierre is getting the chance to fill in for him on the second-line left wing and on the second power-play unit.
Lapierre has a goal and seven shots and is a plus-1 through five games so far. He can only play nine at the NHL level before burning a year of his entry-level contract, but that’s not a concern for Washington at the moment.
Ultimately, the 2020 first-rounder is ready to make the most of his moment on the top-6 and also enjoys playing on the wing.
“I think the most challenging thing, especially when I was playing as a centerman here, it’s just there’s so many things, you know, going around. The guys are so smart, so quick, so there’s lots of switches, lots of stuff that you don’t see necessarily in the other levels,” Lapierre told WHN. “I feel like playing as a winger, it kind of helped me… I feel like if I can play like that and try to make things happen, use my speed, be aggressive, I feel like good things can happen. So I just try to keep going and good things will happen.”
Washington had recalled Aliaksei Protas from Hershey to take on the role of the 13th forward, but he was sent back down to the Bears prior to the game against Philly. Hershey is in the throes of a back-to-back-to-back swing and has games against the Providence Bruins and Springfield Thunderbirds over the next two days. Protas was an extra at the Capitals’ morning skate on Saturday, so it’s presumed he will go back and can jump into game action down there.
Here’s what the Washington lines looked like on Saturday:
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Tom Wilson
Hendrix Lapierre-Lars Eller-Daniel Sprong
Carl Hagelin-Nic Dowd-Garnet Hathaway
Conor Sheary-Connor McMichael-Brett Leason
Martin Fehervary-John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov-Nick Jensen
Trevor van Riemsdyk-Justin Schultz
It looks like Vanecek will get the nod following a tough outing for Samsonov on Thursday, where he was slated to start, “had an issue” and went back down the tunnel then returned 1:45 in before being pulled after allowing three goals on 18 shots.
“Obviously, he had a problem right away and then he went back in there and things just didn’t go his way. Scott [Murray] handles the goalie stuff a lot with regard to technically what they need to do or what they can fight through, what they can work on. So it’s just one of those games where it didn’t seem to go his way or our way at the beginning and we made a change,” Laviolette said. “Vitek came in and made some big saves from the jump and fought back. So he’s gotta keep continuing to work and bounce back.”
Per NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti, Martin Jones appears to be starting for the Flyers.