By Ian Oland
The Washington Capitals saw TJ Oshie, Justin Schultz, and Vitek Vanecek participate fully in practice on Monday after the team was given three days off from head coach Peter Laviolette over the weekend. Anthony Mantha, who underwent shoulder surgery in November, even joined the team in a light blue non-contact jersey.
Laviolette put the Capitals through some heavy conditioning work before finishing practice with some fine-tuning of system play. The head coach, who recently won his 700th career NHL game, was hopeful the returns buoy the team down the stretch.
“It might have been the first time we’ve had everybody on the ice,” Laviolette said. “We’re still not there. Still a lot of question marks out there. It was nice to get everybody out there in practice.”
Laviolette compared the returns of Oshie, Schultz, Vanecek, and Mantha to the day Nicklas Backstrom was cleared for contact on December 3 after the Swedish center missed the entire early part of the season due to a hip injury.
“Guys are happy to see their teammates out there,” Laviolette said. “Some guys have had a tough… certainly Mantha being out for so long. When Backy came back that was a real boost just to see a good player and your teammate back on the ice. You get a lot of guys, four or five guys that have not been around for at least a few days. Some a lot longer than that. When you get them back on the ice, that’s a boost.”
Backstrom agreed with his coach.
“It’s great,” the Swedish center said. “I think all year it’s been guys in and out of the lineup. We haven’t really played with our full lineup yet this year. It’s nice to see. Mantha’s back today at practice. Osh. It’s fun to see those guys. They obviously mean a lot to this team.”
Laviolette said he gave his team three days off ahead of a difficult stretch upcoming in March (13 games) and April (14) where the Capitals will play four sets of back-to-back games – three of which are all on the road.
“I think it’s good with a veteran team,” Laviolette said. “Coming back from it, we still have the three days of practice. It’s not like we’re coming back three or four days off and only one day. So where we’re playing in the schedule, it was a good time to get away.”
The Capitals’ next game is Thursday at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers.
Before the Olympic break, “we were probably the highest in the league in games played,” Laviolette added. “Before we left here, we were at a really high amount of games played. Our guys have been through a lot. A lot of competition in that period of time where others had games pushed off. So the rest is important when it comes to our group. Practice today was fast. It was good. It was crisp. Those three days (off), you like to see that coming back, a good sharp practice. I thought it was.”
There was another factor too.
“We’re an older team,” Backstrom said. “We’ve got to take care of our bodies. We have to get as much rest as we can during a long season like this.”
The Capitals are hopeful that more games and a more consistent schedule will allow them to start humming better as a team. The Capitals have only won 8 of their last 19 games since New Year’s Day.
“When you’re in that grind every other night, you stay in the battle and just move city-to-city,” Laviolette said.
Headline photo: @casadoresdean/Twitter
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