The Washington Capitals likely will get a big jolt to their lineup Thursday against the Carolina Hurricanes. Forward Anthony Mantha, who has been out due to shoulder surgery since early November, looks like he’ll be making his long-awaited return.
Caps head coach Peter Laviolette wouldn’t fully commit to Mantha dressing after the team’s morning skate but the signs are he’s absolutely playing.
“I’m gonna go in and talk through that and get a final answer on him,” Laviolette told the media. “He’s obviously real close. We’ve used him in a lot of situations in practice. We’re gonna go in and talk with Serbs (Caps head athletic trainer) and find out exactly where it’s at and if he’s a go.”
The team did not recall an extra forward from Hershey to replace Carl Hagelin after the Swedish forward had emergency eye surgery. The Capitals will also likely not go to an 11 forward, seven defenseman lineup, after both of the team’s extra, reserve defensemen — Matt Irwin and Michal Kempny — got work in with the scratches after the morning skate, typically a sign they’re not playing.
Mantha’s last game for the Caps came on November 4 against the Florida Panthers when he suffered the shoulder injury. He was first cleared for contact on Monday, but Laviolette preached caution when it came to the excitement for the big winger’s return.
“Today is the first day he was cleared to compete and battle a little bit,” Laviolette said Monday. “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 appears Mantha passed those battle tests in the following days as he has been a full participant in practice since and was on the ice for Thursday’s optional skate.
“He’s looked really good out here to me in practice,” the Caps bench boss said. “It looks like he’s strong, it looks like he’s conditioned. Lots of positives to go with that.”
To make room for Mantha’s $5.7 million salary, the Caps will likely place Carl Hagelin on long-term injured reserve. Joe Snively also remains out with an upper-body injury. Caps general manager Brian MacLellan hinted at that solution in his presser with the media Wednesday.
“We’ve got some injury situations here that need to be resolved so that would create some room,” MacLellan said.
According to NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti, Justin Schultz is also expected to make his return to the lineup for the first time since February 24 against the New York Rangers.
Getting the start in net for the first time since February 1 will be Vitek Vanecek. Playing number two to him will be Zach Fucale, who the Caps called up Thursday morning. Ilya Samsonov took a shot up high during Wednesday’s practice and left early not to return. He got in some work with goaltending coach Scott Murray as the optional skate was ending.
The Hurricanes are currently the East’s best team with their 37-11-5 record. The Caps better get used to seeing them as this is the first of three times they’ll match up this month.
Update (2:10 PM): Mantha is no longer listed on the injured reserve on the Capitals roster. Both Carl Hagelin and Joe Snively now are.
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