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Backstrom's health among questions facing Capitals

by Katie Brown /

ARLINGTON, Va. -- By adding forwards Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie this offseason, the Washington Capitals hope they've completed a team that can withstand the rigors of playoff hockey and is good enough to win the Stanley Cup.

But there are plenty of lingering issues for the Capitals, from the way their lineup will be constructed to who will be in it.

Here are three questions facing the Capitals this season:

Will Nicklas Backstrom be ready for the season opener? The center had arthroscopic surgery on his hip May 27, and his recovery was estimated at five months. He said the injury had been bothering him since November.

General manager Brian MacLellan said in July that Backstrom had started skating, which was a positive sign, but it's possible he will be sidelined beyond training camp.

Last season, Backstrom played 82 games for the fifth time in his NHL career, led the League with 60 assists, and finished sixth with 78 points.

Forward Evgeny Kuznetsov, who switched to center last season, is an option to play on the top line with Alex Ovechkin if Backstrom isn't ready. He played most of last season on the second line between Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer, and his adaptability could be an advantage.

Johansson will probably stay as a wing, though he has played center in the NHL. Andre Burakovsky could take Kuznetsov's place on the second line if Backstrom is unable to play for a significant period of time.

"To me, [Burakovsky] could play any position, right wing, center or left wing," MacLellan said. "He's just that good. Marcus I'd like more on the wing than on the center."

Who will be the third-line center? The Capitals have more than a few options to play there. Jay Beagle and Brooks Laich have filled that role, and either could reprise it if coach Barry Trotz decides he'd prefer the line to be more defense-oriented.

If Trotz wants more offense, he could use Burakovsky or Kuznetsov there. Trotz may decide to leave the position open for specific matchups.

That would leave Michael Latta as fourth-line center, where he was last season.

Who will be Braden Holtby's backup? It's hard to foresee a scenario where Philipp Grubauer isn't backing up Holtby this season, but MacLellan said Justin Peters will be given a fair chance to compete with Grubauer for the job at training camp.

The Capitals signed Grubauer to a two-year, $1.5 million, one-way contract June 15. He has appeared in 20 NHL games with the Capitals, with a 2.44 goals-against average and .924 save percentage.

"I don't think [Grubauer] has anything left to prove at the American [Hockey] League level," Hershey Bears coach Troy Mann said.

Peters started nine games last season, with a 3.25 GAA and .881 save percentage.

When Holtby was unavailable to play in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference First Round, Grubauer was recalled from Hershey, and Peters backed him up.

Peters had knee surgery Aug. 11 but is expected to be fully recovered in time for training camp.

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