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SKATE SHAVINGS - News and Notes From Caps' Morning Skate

Caps get Backstrom and Oshie back, but will be without Orlov, Fucale starts in net, more

by Mike Vogel @vogscaps / washingtoncaps.com

Long Monday - The Caps are back home tonight, starting a stretch of seven home games in their next 11 games when they host the Boston Bruins at Capital One Arena. This is the first meeting between the two teams this season, but last season they shared occupancy of the East Division and faced one another eight times before meeting in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a series Boston won in five games.

Monday's game is the third in four nights for Washington, which claimed one of a possible four points from a weekend set of back-to-backs on the road in St. Louis and Minnesota, respectively. After a 5-1 setback in St. Louis on Friday, the Caps lost a 2-0 second-period lead against the Wild and ended up on the short end of a 3-2 shootout decision.

In six of Washington's last eight games, either the Caps or their opponent has rallied from a deficit of two or more goals. The Caps are 3-2-3 over that stretch, and they enter Monday's game carrying their second three-game losing streak (0-1-2) of the season and seeking their first victory of calendar 2022.

"We've got to right the ship," says Caps coach Peter Laviolette. "It doesn't matter that we played well in Minnesota; we didn't win the game and it's about winning hockey games. And we haven't done that in a few games here, so it's time for us to get back on track."

The Caps have yet to go more than two games without picking up a point, and their total of seven regulation losses on the season is tied with Florida and Carolina for the fewest in the NHL. Dating back to April 9, 2021, the Caps have now played 52 straight regular season games without suffering consecutive regulation setbacks.

Don't Let Us Get Sick - The Caps took Sunday off and returned to the rink on Monday morning to a mix of personnel news: both Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie will be in the Washington lineup tonight after missing the last three games each because of non-COVID illness.

On the other hand, Monday morning's news wasn't all good, as the Caps learned they will be without defenseman Dmitry Orlov for tonight's game against the Bruins. Orlov was placed into COVID-19 protocol on Monday morning. Matt Irwin is expected to play tonight in place of Orlov. Irwin last played on New Year's Eve in Detroit when he skated 12:33 in the Caps' 3-1 win over the Red Wings. 

The Capitals are 6-1-0 in the seven games in which Irwin has played this season.

"It's great to have them back," says Caps coach Peter Laviolette of the returns of the two veteran forwards. "Their years have not unfolded probably the way that they want, through no fault of their own, it's just the way that it's gone. And so it's nice to get them back going, but as we found out this morning, that landscape is forever changing, and so we deal with it when it happens.

"But to have those two guys back, hopefully we can find some consistency with their daily routine, which hasn't been there. I think that alone will help get them back up to speed and back on track. But it's great to have them back."

Backstrom didn't play in his first game of the season until mid-December, and then he missed the next two games after going into COVID-19 protocol.

Backstrom returned to the ice with his teammates after the holiday break, but he was felled by a non-COVID illness after playing two more games. He carries a three-game point streak into tonight's game with Boston, but those three games represent the entirety of his workload this season.

"I'm feeling great right now," says Backstrom. "I'm back to normal. That second illness hit me harder than COVID, actually. That was bad, but I've been back and practicing for four or five days now and it's going to be fun to play a game again and getting a few games in a row here."

With Backstrom back in the lineup, the Caps will have their top four centers on the ice for just the second time in 37 games this season.

"We haven't had our full lineup even for one game this year," says Backstrom. "We've just got to keep grinding. Obviously, a lot of credit to the guys who have been stepping in and stepping up and playing all different positions. Hopefully we can put this all behind us soon and move forward."

Oshie has played in more games (16) than Backstrom, but his season has also had its fits and starts, and he has played in just nine of Washington's last 29 games after appearing in each of the first seven games of the season.

"I'm fantastic," he proclaims. "I'm back and ready to rock."

Like Backstrom, the effects of the flu were more debilitating than the effects of COVID on him. And from a personal standpoint, it kept him from accompanying the team to St. Louis - where he spent the first several seasons of his career - and Minnesota where he spent his formative years.

"The flu was definitely worse," says Oshie. "I'm not a doctor, but I think maybe the immune system had already taken a little bit of a hit, so it was a little bit worse.

"I wish I could have been back for that trip - St. Louis and Minnesota, a pretty big trip - it's something that me personally, I circle on the calendar right away. My family was there to watch, so it's unfortunate. But we've got good people here that look out for our health instead of just our ambitions."

In The Nets - Two nights after he established an NHL record for longest shutout streak (138 minutes, 17 seconds) at the outset of an NHL career, Zach Fucale gets a second straight start on Monday night against Boston.

The 26-year-old Fucale blanked the Red Wings in Detroit in Nov. 11 in his NHL debut, he pitched a shutout stanza in relief of Ilya Samsonov in Friday night's game in St. Louis and he didn't yield a goal until the final minute of his second NHL start on Saturday night in Minnesota.

Now, he gets consecutive starts and a home start, both for the first time in his nascent NHL career.

"You get opportunities in life; you've got to make the most of them," says Laviolette. "His training camp was excellent. Prior to him getting called up the first time, he was one of the top goaltenders in the American Hockey League. He was one of the top goaltenders in the American Hockey League last year. He came up and he did the job in his first stint, he did the job when he came off the bench [Friday in St. Louis] and I thought he gave us a heck of a performance in Minnesota, so he earned the right to go back in there."

In his three NHL appearances this season, Fucale has forged a 1-0-1 record with an 0.42 GAA and a .980 save pct., stopping 49 of the 50 shots he has faced.

During the nearly two months that passed between his debut in Detroit and his second appearance in St. Louis, Fucale was sidelined because of COVID-19 protocol, and was also with AHL Hershey during the two-week stretch in which the Bears didn't play at all because of an outbreak of the virus. As a result, his season has had interruptions similar to those experienced by Backstrom and Oshie.

In between a Nov. 24 start against Providence and a Jan. 2 assignment against Bridgeport, Fucale played in just one game in a span of 38 days. But his start tonight is his fourth in nine days - including his last two starts with Hershey - so he may be on the verge of falling into that rhythm that's so important for goaltenders.

"It's definitely a challenge," says Fucale. "As a goalie, when you get that rhythm and you get those starts back-to-back-to back, that's when you get those automatic reads over and over. But it's just part of what I had to go through this year, and I'm not the only one. If you look around the League, there's probably a lot of guys that had it worse than I did.

"For me, I just have to ride the wave. And I'm going to say the same thing I said the other day, just look 10 feet in front of me and go from there. If it's another start or whatever the situation is, just deal with it when it comes and that's that. That's all you can do at this point because there are so many uncontrollable. You've just got to go with the flow."

The flow has Fucale in net tonight against the Bruins, and on paper this is his toughest assignment yet at this level. But he's having fun.

"Every time I'm out there - I don't know if you guys hear me - but I'm always yelling and I'm always having fun," he says. "For me, I'm real passionate about playing hockey and this is just a great opportunity. A great game at home against Boston, that's fun right there."

For Boston, we're expecting to see Linus Ullmark in the crease tonight. Ullmark is in his first season with the Bruins after inking a multi-year deal with them last summer; he spent the first six seasons of his career in Buffalo. Ullmark was the Sabres' sixth-round pick (163rd overall) in the 2012 NHL Draft.

Lifetime against the Capitals, he is 2-4-1 with a 2.94 GAA and an .895 save pct. in seven appearances.

All Lined Up - Here's how we believe the Capitals and the Bruins might look on Monday night at Capital One Arena:

WASHINGTON

Forwards

8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 77-Oshie

10-Sprong, 19-Backstrom, 43-Wilson

24-McMichael, 20-Eller, 73-Sheary

62-Hagelin, 26-Dowd, 21-Hathaway

Defensemen

42-Fehervary, 74-Carlson

57-van Riemsdyk, 3-Jensen

52-Irwin, 2-Schultz

Goaltenders

60-Fucale

41-Vanecek

Extras/Taxi Squad

6-Kempny

23-Sgarbossa

30-Samsonov

38-Cholowski

49-Leason

59-Protas

Injured/Out

9-Orlov (COVID-19 protocol)

39-Mantha (upper body, indefinite)

 

BOSTON

Forwards

63-Marchand, 37-Bergeron, 12-Smith

71-Hall, 56-Haula, 88-Pastrnak

83-Kuhlman, 13-Coyle, 62-Steen

81-Blidh, 11-Frederic, 20-Lazar

Defensemen

48-Grzelcyk, 73-McAvoy

6-Reilly, 25-Carlo

58-Vaakanainen, 75-Clifton

Goaltenders

35-Ullmark

1-Swayman

Extras/Taxi Squad

27-Moore

28-Forbort

29-Fogarty

31-Grosenick

Injured/Out

17-N. Foligno (lower body)

67-Zboril (Torn ACL)

74-DeBrusk (COVID-19 protocol)

92-Nosek (COVID-19 protocol)

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