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Michael Latta: ‘It’s been tough’ to be scratched for five straight games

(Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports)

For nearly two weeks, when the Washington Capitals went through rushes during morning skates, Michael Latta watched from the side. He’s stayed on the ice longer after practice with the other scratches for that night’s game. He’s watched the Capitals win five straight games while wearing a suit.

His goal coming into the season was to carve out a stable place in the lineup, but after a 5-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks in Washington’s second game, Latta has been supplanted as the fourth-line center. The Capitals recalled Chandler Stephenson before a game against the Chicago Blackhawks, then went on a five-game winning streak, meaning any changes to the lineup would be few and far between.

“It’s frustrating personally,” Latta said on Tuesday. “It’s tough. You kind of expect a lot of yourself coming into this year, then you kind of get replaced. But, you know, that’s the way life goes. Someone comes in and the team starts really coming together. We’ve got [Nicklas Backstrom] and we’ve got [Alex Ovechkin] back, and the team’s just looked really good. Guys started clicking.

“That’s just part of the business. I’ve been here before and have to kind of wait my turn. I’m still here, so I’ve just got to wait my turn and get back in.”

As a 23-year-old last season, officially a rookie by league standards, Latta’s role was mostly limited to the fourth line, skating both on the wing and at center, averaging 8 minutes 23 seconds of ice time. He was the NHL’s only forward held without a goal in at least 50 games, though his 52.96 even-strength scoring chance rate ranked fifth among regular Capitals forwards, according to war-on-ice.com.

Stephenson isn’t directly responsible for Washington’s five-game win streak, as the Capitals were without Backstrom (hip) and Ovechkin (overslept morning skate) in their lone loss to the Sharks. But the possession numbers of the fourth line with Stephenson have been good, and tinkering with a winning formula doesn’t make a lot of sense.

In Vancouver, Capitals Coach Barry Trotz was asked what he wanted to see from his scratches; he said he expects those players to be the most impressive in practice. Tamping down the frustration in sometimes easier said than done, but Latta said he’s trying to stay positive.

He stayed on the ice after practice with the scratches again on Wednesday, out of the lineup for Washington’s game against Pittsburgh.

“It’s been tough,” Latta said. “I have my moments where I’ve been pretty upset. You just have to look at the big picture. The team’s playing so good. I’ve never seen a team play so good, so it’s tough to be upset or mad when we’re playing so well. It’s good to be part of a winning team. Maybe you could go somewhere else and play more minutes, but I mean, the team we have here is special.”

Here’s the projected lineup for the Capitals game against Pittsburgh on Wednesday night:

Forwards

Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson-Nicklas Backstrom-Justin Williams

Jason Chimera-Jay Beagle-Tom Wilson

Brooks Laich-Chandler Stephenson-Andre Burakovsky

Defensemen

Brooks Orpik-John Carlson

Karl Alzner-Matt Niskanen

Dmitry Orlov-Taylor Chorney

Goaltenders

Braden Holtby

Philipp Grubauer

Scratches

Michael Latta

Stanislav Galiev

Nate Schmidt

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