With the Washington Capitals’ quest for a second-line center stalled halfway through the preseason, Coach Barry Trotz plans to throw forward Brooks Laich into a competition that hasn’t quite gone as hoped.
Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky have each logged at least two preseason games apiece, but after Washington’s 5-4 overtime win over Boston on Friday night, Trotz expressed displeasure with the results. The Capitals have not yet released their travel roster for Sunday’s trip to Montreal and Kuznetsov was the only skater of the battling trio to face the Bruins.
“We haven’t gotten any production, but we’re two games into it, it’s like having a two-game goalless streak, it’s not the end of the world,” Trotz said, adding that he intentionally played Kuznetsov versus physical Boston (twice) and Philadelphia teams to give the Russian rookie a feel for NHL-style hockey.
“He’s a smart player, he’s exceptionally smart,” Trotz said. “He’s got to figure his way out, sometimes the less you say sometimes the better or sometimes we go to a point where we say, ‘Try this. Try that.’ He’s an exceptionally talented young man.”
The looming decision underscores a muddled roster that, with further roster cuts coming Sunday and the season opener less than two weeks away, hasn’t received much clarity. Trotz will aim to reduce the roster to eight defensemen, “no more than 15 forwards and probably two goalies” by next Friday.
But that means sending several capable blue-liners down to Hershey, some of whom must pass through waivers. The candidates for Washington’s final three defensive spots include John Erskine, Jack Hillen, Steven Oleksy, Cam Schilling, Nate Schmidt, Connor Carrick and Patrick Wey.
“We’ve got to get a little more clarity,” Trotz said. “I’ve talked to guys, we’re having guys go to Hershey shortly here. I’ve talked to guys, said, ‘Listen I’ve just got to clear the deck. I don’t see you starting here.’ But if the guys need to get called up, [Hershey Coach] Troy Mann will make that decision based on play and so anybody who’s I say let go early, he’s got as good a chance as any to be the first call-up.”
Meanwhile, the back end of Trotz’s forwards corps complicated itself further with strong preseasons from Michael Latta, Chris Brown and Liam O’Brien, who formed the fourth line which anchored a two-goal Capitals comeback against Boston. Latta and Brown are squarely in the mix for a bottom-six roster spot, while Trotz envisioned finding O’Brien a home within the organization “if he keeps playing the way he is.”
Both O’Brien and Brown are scheduled to play in Montreal on Sunday. The full travel roster is below:
Personnel note: Trotz praised Eric Fehr for the forward’s versatility, but still hasn’t decided where Fehr will play.
“He’s sort of that utility guy, you move him all over the place but that doesn’t mean he’s not going to be sort of that high-end guy on the first line or he’s going to be the third-line centerman,” Trotz said. “I think we’re trying to sort that out. We’re going to throw him in another spot tomorrow. Each game, I’m trying to put another piece in and take a look at it. We’ve got to lock things down those last four games, just load it up.”
Injury note: Defenseman Mike Green and forward Michael Latta both missed practice Saturday with upper-body injuries, Trotz confirmed.
“I don’t think it’s anything major at all,” Trotz said. “Just maintenance.”
Four exhibition games in, Trotz noticed “more guys are getting ‘treatments’” and called it a “red flag to dial it back.”
“We’ll pick an appropriate day here,” Trotz said. “We may take another quick day off, half day off, shorten things up or take some of the grind out, work on things.”