The Washington Capitals announced on Saturday that Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson would be making their season debuts against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday. With an optional morning skate, where exactly they would line up remained unknown until half an hour before puck drop.
After the Caps took their warmup line rushes, we now know both will be in the top six forward group but on separate lines.
Here is how head coach Peter Laviolette has his team lined up to take on Columbus per the Capitals.
Backstrom will jump right back onto the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Conor Sheary. Over the past handful of seasons, the three have only skated together at five-on-five for just over 37 minutes. In those minutes they have been on the ice for two goals for and two goals against. It’s an untested trio overall, but Ovechkin and Backstrom have built up a ton of obvious chemistry sharing the ice together for now 16 seasons.
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Wilson on the other hand will feature on a new-look second line that sees Dylan Strome on the wing for the first time since the preseason. Strome has been an integral part of the team’s offense while playing down the middle so far this year, tallying 31 points in 42 games. Wilson will also be back with long-time linemate Evgeny Kuznetsov. With those two on the ice together at five-on-five last season, the Caps outscored their opposition 33 to 23.
Laviolette spoke pregame about how nice it will be to have both of the stars back in action but warned against leaning on them too much at the start.
“I think everybody is excited, they’re certainly excited,” Laviolette said. From the organization, the coaches, fans, and everybody are excited to have them back. It’s been a long road for those two guys.
“I think it’s important that everybody makes sure that their hands are on the rope and that we’re all pulling, and we’re not just looking at two people to see what they’re doing” he continued. “This is day one and game number one for them – but together just supporting each other with the way we play we’re hoping to make it a positive day.”
Laviolette also revealed that both players will not have any sort of ice time restriction placed on them. They will get their regular power play shifts and Wilson will see some action shorthanded.
Sonny Milano will stick in the lineup after scoring again on Friday in the loss to Nashville. He has four goals in his last eight games. For him to dress Sunday night means that Anthony Mantha and Nicolas Aube-Kubel will not as the two healthy scratches up front.
“These are obviously tough decisions,” Laviolette said about that choice. “There’s 14 forwards now with Protas and Snively not being here. Fourteen NHL players that have helped our team be successful. Two of those players are now available coming off of injury and it just made for tough decisions. I have no problem if either one of those guys were in the lineup today, Kubel or Mantha but they’re not. I had to make decisions and that’s where I started.”
Darcy Kuemper will be in the crease for his 26th start of the season. He beat the Blue Jackets in Columbus last Thursday in a 25-save effort. He is now 11-9-4 overall on the season and has a 2.56 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage. He is also tied for the league lead in shutouts with three.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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