The Washington Capitals are back in DC and preparing to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs for the first time since 2019. The team will look to get their first win post-bye week after dropping two in a row to the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers.
According to The Athletic’s Tarik El-Bashir, Anthony Mantha shed his non-contact jersey and is now cleared for contact.
Mantha won’t be in the lineup against the Maple Leafs, but it’s an incredibly positive sign for the forward who has been out since early November due to shoulder surgery.
Lookin' good, Mo! pic.twitter.com/GPKESk6W7g
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) February 28, 2022
Mantha has 14 points in 24 games with the Capitals since being dealt to Washington in a trade with Detroit that included Jakub Vrana. With Washington’s recent inability to find a lineup that gels and creates offense, an early unexpected return from Mantha could be just what the doctor ordered.
“I think we just gotta not get too excited about the fact you see him out on the ice. That would be a first step in a tough injury that he had and a long road back,” Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette said earlier this month. “So it’s gonna be a little bit. But I do think that there’s a chance that we’ll see him on the ice at some point here in February. And my guess is, yes, we would see him back before we play our first playoff game.”
Off the ice, Mantha’s $5.7 million salary being on long-term injured reserve is the only reason the Capitals are currently salary cap compliant. If he were to return, additional roster moves would need to be made to accommodate his contract. Mantha could impact how active the team is at this year’s trade deadline. If he will be ready sooner than thought, the team needs to be cognizant of how they use their space and may need to move contracts to other teams to make room. If he remains on LTIR, the team can be more flexible.
“Today is the first day he was cleared to compete and battle a little bit,” Laviolette added today. “Day 1. He’s out there going through some battle stuff now. The first 30 minutes is with the guys to loosen up. Out here he might get in some battles like he is right now just one-on-one holding people off. But again, it’s Day 1.”
“It’s certainly good. We talk about getting guys out on the ice, getting in a colored jersey, and then out of the colored jerseys, and into the battles. So there’s a progression to it.”
Meanwhile, Dmitry Orlov missed Monday’s morning skate due to personal reasons. The Russian defenseman is expected to play in tonight’s game. Defenseman Justin Schultz, who missed the Flyers game after returning against the Rangers, skated on the extra defense pairing and will be a game-time decision. The rest of the lineup will look like this via The Washington Post’s Samantha Pell.
The top-line trio that had a ton of success early in the season has been reunited and TJ Oshie has seen a promotion to the top-six after playing a key role for the team in his two games after returning from injury. Daniel Sprong took line rushes with the main group in place of Joe Snively but then also stuck around for extra work with the scratches, so that lineup spot could still be up in the air.
Pell also reports that Ilya Samsonov was the first goaltender off of the ice so he will be the Caps starter against Toronto. Vitek Vanecek is back up with the team and active on the NHL roster for the first time since February 8 when he went on injured reserve. He played yesterday for the Hershey Bears in a conditioning start, making 21 stops on 23 shots.
The Maple Leafs have a 34-14-4 record this season that sees them currently occupying third place in the Atlantic Division. In their last game against the Detroit Red Wings, they took home a 10-7 win. That’s not a typo.
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong/RMNB
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