Dec. 6 vs. Chicago Blackhawks at Capital One Arena
Time: 8:00 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Network
Radio: FAN 106.7, Capitals Radio 24/7
Chicago Blackhawks 12-10-5
Washington Capitals 16-11-1
The Chicago Blackhawks are in the District on Wednesday night to take on the Caps at Capital One Arena. It’s the first of two meetings between the two teams, and the Hawks’ lone visit to D.C. this season.
After losing the opener of its season-long five-game homestand, the Caps have followed up with wins over Columbus and San Jose, respectively, and they can ensure a winning homestand with a victory over the Hawks on Wednesday.
Whatever the Caps do on Wednesday, they’re likely to do it without T.J. Oshie. The Caps’ right wing/spark plug/jack-of-all-trades absorbed an awkward bodycheck from the Sharks’ Joe Thornton in the second period of Monday’s 4-1 win over San Jose, and Oshie did not return to the game. He also did not practice on Tuesday with his teammates.
“I would probably say he is very doubtful for [Wednesday],” says Caps coach Barry Trotz.
On the good news front, Chandler Stephenson has been cleared to return to the lineup after suffering an upper body injury in Saturday’s win over Columbus. Stephenson missed the San Jose game.
“I expect him to play [Wednesday],” says Trotz of Stephenson.
Oshie is Washington’s third leading scorer with 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists). He leads the Caps with seven power-play goals, and he plays on both special teams. Sine he was put on a line with Jakub Vrana and Evgeny Kuznetsov six games ago, the trio has combined for eight goals and 17 points, and Washington has won five of those six games.
“What Osh does for them,” begins Trotz, “Kuzy likes to have the puck a lot, and he can distribute it really well and he likes to carry it into the zone. What Osh does is he gets in those dirty areas, he keeps pucks alive, he is a defensive consciousness for them, and he can be a little bit of that shooter, but he also has the ability to make real good plays, because he is a good player.
“With that whole line, they seem to be generating a lot of chances. It shows in their analytics, and they’re having some production. So it’s working for now.”
Caps winger Andre Burakovsky has been out since Oct. 21 with a broken thumb, but he has skated with his teammates each of the last two days. Would Burakovsky be able to play on Wednesday to help fill the breach left by Oshie’s expected absence?
“We have to see where Osh is,” says Trotz. “I think Andre is very close. [There is a] possibility – a slim possibility – that he would be in. I think he’s getting close. Another practice or two and he should be ready to go.”
Some six and a half years after he was drafted, center Travis Boyd made his NHL debut for the Caps on Monday against San Jose. Boyd skated on a line with Brett Connolly and Lars Eller, and he logged 9:10 in ice time on the night. He recorded one shot on net and nearly picked up an assist in the second period, when he fed Connolly at the back door.
“I thought Travis was really, really good, actually,” says Trotz. “I thought he made a couple of good plays. He made an outstanding play to Conno on the back post there. He’s so good and smart in those small areas. He’s quick, but he’s not fast – if that makes any sense. He is quick in those small areas and he can make quick decisions and he can handle pressure and feel pressure in those tight areas.
“Up and down the rink, his speed is fine, but you wouldn’t say he is Kuzy-fast or anything like that. But he is a smart player His IQ makes up a step or two in his game, and he competes and he makes plays. I really liked his first game.”
Oshie is a right-handed right wing. If the Caps are looking for a straight up replacement in that regard, they have Connolly, Alex Chiasson and Devante Smith-Pelly, all of whom are right shots who can play on the right side. Connolly filled in for Oshie on the power play late in Monday’s game.
Boyd is a center by trade, but he is a right-handed pivot who might be able to fit in on the right side. Trotz said that Boyd’s advanced hockey IQ ought to aid his transition to the wing, particularly in adjusting to wall play, an aspect of the game a center doesn’t generally deal with as much.
“There was a wall play [Monday],” says Trotz. “He shielded the puck, he felt the pressure – and that’s that IQ in those small areas – along the boards and he spun one way, and he spun the other, and he popped the puck right to where he was supposed to, to the guy who was underneath speed. They broke out and ended up going down the ice and getting some zone time and a [scoring] chance.”
Owning a four-game losing streak (0-2-2) and coming off a 3-1 home ice loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday, the Blackhawks changed up their forward lines at practice on Tuesday, before departing for the District. Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad are usually together, but they’ve been split up as the Hawks go with youngsters Ryan Hartman and John Hayden on Toews’ wings
Saad will skate the left side of a unit with Patrick Kane, flanking Artem Anisimov. That line features three of Chicago’s top four goal scorers. The fourth of those top four scorers is teenaged rookie Alex DeBrincat, whose 11 goals is tied with Arizona’s Clayton Keller for second most among the league’s freshmen. (Vancouver’s Brock Boeser leads with 13.) DeBrincat skates the right side of a line with Lance Bouma and Nick Schmaltz.
The Hawks are missing goaltender Corey Crawford, who has been sidelined since Nov. 30 with an undisclosed injury. Anton Forsberg started the last two games for Chicago, surrendering only three goals in the two games while being saddled with a pair of losses (0-1-1).