Washington Capitals Take On Vancouver Canucks; Nicklas Backstrom ‘Game-Time’ Decision

Nicklas Backstrom Capitals

The Washington Capitals (4-4-1) begin a three-game road trip tonight with a game against the Vancouver Canucks (5-3-1).

Date: Thursday, October 26, 2017
Time: 10.00 PM EDT
Venue: Rogers Arena, Vancouver

Nicklas Backstrom ‘Game-Time’ Decision

The Washington Capitals enjoyed last season as the healthiest team in the NHL. This term, the club is already war-wounded after less than a month.

Andre Burakovsky immediately followed up his first goal of the season with his first – and hopefully last – fractured thumb of the season against the Florida Panthers on Saturday in a 4-1 loss. He had successful surgery earlier this week but is expected to be out for six to eight weeks. Meanwhile, veteran defenseman Matt Niskanen remains out on injured reserve, center Tyler Graovac is out with an upper-body injury, and reports today state that star center Nicklas Backstrom is a ‘game-time decision’ because of an illness. All of this compounds a young season in which the Capitals depth chart has deteriorated up front and on the blue line.

“It’s life, it’s hockey,” Capitals Head Coach Barry Trotz told the Washington Post. “You just can’t worry about it. We talk about ‘next guy up, next guy up, get it done.’ There’s different ways to get it done. Obviously, he’s a big part of our team. We rely on him in a lot of situations, but that’s an opportunity for someone else to take advantage of that.” If Backstrom sits out tonight, Chandler Stephenson will likely get a jersey for his first game of the season; he has no points in his 13 career NHL games.

Hershey Bears Reunite for Capitals in NHL

If Stephenson does start tonight in Vancouver, he’ll want to impress Trotz quickly to be in the mix going forward. He has five goals and an assist in six games for the Hershey Bears this season. The 23-year-old has a golden opportunity, likely playing on the second line alongside Tom Wilson and T. J. Oshie, and he will reunite with a handful of the Hershey Bears players that made it to the Calder Cup Final in 2015-16:  Jakub Vrana, Nathan Walker, Madison Bowey, Christian Djoos and Aaron Ness (healthy scratch tonight).

“We have new parts that are in play, and they’re great players,” stated Capitals’ center Jay Beagle. “It’s a matter of them blending into our system and then finding their game within our system. I’ve seen great plays from all three of these guys that have come in – Bows, Nesser and Djooser – in the defensive zone, and that familiarity is huge for a center and a [defenseman], and even for the wings. It’s about the breakout. If you come out clean or if you come out a certain way, it sets you up for the whole game. It really is very important.”

Watch Out For Jake Virtanen

In Vancouver tonight, Washington faces a young, rebuilding Canucks outfit that is fresh from a surprisingly successful road trip during which they won four out of five games. Right winger Jake Virtanen, 21, has tallied a goal in each of the Canucks’ last two games while playing alongside the Sedin twins on the team’s first line.

“They are super skilled and I think with my speed I can get on the forecheck and recover pucks for them,” stated Virtanen about the matchup with the Washington Capitals and his role with the Canucks. Virtanen will be eager to penetrate the Capitals’ unpredictable defense which has allowed 17 goals in its last four games. Out of Washington’s starting defensemen, only Taylor Chorney has a positive plus-minus rating with a plus-four. The Caps have had difficulty clearing their zone and keeping hold of the puck all season long, and they’ve yet to record a shutout; going by the defensive displays in recent games – goaltender Braden Holtby will need to stand on his head tonight to buck that trend.

In contrast, Vancouver goaltender Anders Nilsson is looking for his third shutout in four starts. He will, as does every NHL netminder, have his hands full with the Capitals’ captain Alex Ovechkin – who has 10 goals from nine games. However, Ovechkin has only one goal from 21 shots over his last four games, whereas his other nine goals came from 29 shots in his first five games. It’s that kind of inconsistency that has plagued the Capitals so far in the season. Tonight, Alex Chiasson is expected to start on Ovechkin’s top line – a plan that will either explode for goals or spectacularly implode and backfire; it’s a hit-or-miss offense so far this season as the Capitals have registered some impressive victories amid some horrific losses – particularly that 8-2 humiliation against the Philadelphia Flyers – a game that could easily have ended 15-2.

The Capitals have won four straight against the Canucks and will hope to make it five in a row to re-energize the team on a tricky road trip; expect two or three goals from each team tonight.

Capitals Projected Lineup

Alex Ovechkin — Evgeny Kuznetsov — Alex Chiasson

Tom Wilson — Chandler Stephenson — T.J. Oshie

Brett Connolly — Lars Eller — Jakub Vrana

Nathan Walker — Jay Beagle — Devante Smith-Pelly

Dmitry Orlov — Taylor Chorney

Christian Djoos — John Carlson

Brooks Orpik — Madison Bowey

Braden Holtby (starting)

Philipp Grubauer

Scratched: Aaron Ness

Injured: Matt Niskanen (upper body), Tyler Graovac (upper body), Andre Burakovsky (thumb), Nicklas Backstrom (illness)

Canucks Projected Lineup

Sven Baertschi — Bo Horvat — Brock Boeser

Daniel Sedin — Henrik Sedin — Jake Virtanen

Thomas Vanek — Alexander Burmistrov — Sam Gagner

Markus Granlund — Brandon Sutter — Derek Dorsett

Ben Hutton — Christopher Tanev

Michael Del Zotto — Erik Gudbranson

Derrick Pouliot — Alex Biega

Anders Nilsson (starting)

Jacob Markstrom

Scratched: Patrick Wiercioch, Michael Chaput

Injured: Alexander Edler (knee), Loui Eriksson (knee), Troy Stecher (knee)

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