The Washington Capitals got a sight for sore eyes on Wednesday morning as star forwards Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson jumped on the ice for the first time in their respective rehab processes.
Both players took it easy and skated in team-branded tracksuits. While nothing too notable happened, the fact that Backstrom and Wilson were on the ice at all was encouraging to Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette.
“I was excited to see them out there,” Laviolette said. “They’re at the beginning steps of getting back on the ice. You won’t see them in gear tomorrow. They’re at the very beginning. But it was great to see them out there.”
Wilson is recovering from knee surgery that repaired the ACL in his left leg while Backstrom is working his way back from major hip resurfacing surgery. Both players had the procedures done over the summer.
“I’m sure that they were thrilled to get out there, touch the ice, touch their edges, and move a puck around,” Laviolette continued. “It’s awesome. Makes me happy that they’re both out there. They’re working down the road to recovery.”
With Dylan Strome filling in quite well for the injured Backstrom both on the power play and at even strength, Wilson’s absence has been felt most by the Capitals.
Seven games into the regular season, Connor Brown and Conor Sheary have both tried their best to substitute onto Alex Ovechkin’s line and neither has really grabbed a hold of the position. Brown, who was given the first chance, suffered his own long-term injury that the team seems to suggest may keep him most of the season. He played four games with Ovi and recorded zero points.
The current player tasked with the duty is Sheary. Laviolette has been a big fan of the diminutive winger since he arrived in DC.
“He’s been excellent,” Laviolette said. “It’s hard not to like Conor Sheary. He works hard every day. He competes every game. He’s good defensively, he’s scored big goals. Right now he’s on the top line but I started him on the Dowd line and so we used him as a checker on the checking line. He changed positions, he was left wing now he’s right wing. He’s just a guy who is really useful inside your lineup and it’s the way he plays the game and competes that I think draws everybody in.”
The veteran bench boss is not wrong. Since arriving in DC for the 2020-21 season, Sheary is tied for second on the team in goals scored with 37. His fit with Ovechkin, however, is another story.
In over 327 five-on-five minutes together, the Caps have been outscored 22 to 17 and seem to bleed high-danger chances (45.3 HDCF%). Things do seem to be going better this season though in the smaller 36-minute sample size. With the two on the ice, the Caps are seeing 52.9-percent of the shot attempts, 52-percent of the expected goals, 51.3-percent of the scoring chances, and only hold a minus-one high-danger chance differential.
Sheary and his team-leading four goals are primed to stick on that top line for now but things seem to be everchanging within the Capitals lineup early in the campaign.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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