NEW YORK – There’s a sort of pattern for young players when they get their first NHL experience. They’re full of adrenaline the first few games, but once that wears off, their play often drops off, too. As rookie Jakub Vrana approaches the one-month anniversary of his recall to the Capitals, avoiding that trend will be crucial to extending his stay in Washington.
“That’s part of the maturing process for every young player,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “You get called up, you are full of adrenaline, you want to stay and you’re full of excitement and then the grind starts to hit you of the NHL. You see some of the young junior players who started the season in the National Hockey League playing at the World Junior [Championships], the grind sort of gets to them at a certain point and then they fall off. That’s the same thing for a lot of the young guys when they first come up, they’re good for 10 or so, or 15 or 20, and then they hit a little bit of a dry patch or the the grind gets to them and they fall off a little bit.
“But Jake’s been pretty consistent, so to this point, I’ve been pretty happy with him.”
Vrana has one goal and two assists in 11 games played. His last point was against the New York Islanders the last time they played in Barclays Center. Trotz said Vrana’s last game in the lineup was “one of his weaker ones,” and he’s gone two games with no shots on goal.
But while Vrana hasn’t had a point in four games, the third line with center Lars Eller has started to heat up with Vrana on the wing. In the past five games, that forward group has scored three goals, Vrana on the ice for all of them.
“I need to put up some goals and some scoring chances are always good, you know?” Vrana said. “If you have that, it’s good, but you need to finish it. So, I’ve been working on that and we’ll see how it’s going to go. … Every game is different, so sometimes, you have maybe three, four [scoring chances]. Sometimes, it’s not you, it’s your teammate, your linemate and you create for him.”
Said Eller: “I think he’s been able to maintain a pretty high level of standard. His game hasn’t dropped a lot in the last week or two. He’s been able to keep the high level, which that has impressed me. I think the future bodes well for him.”
Trotz said the Capitals will “probably” go with a 22-man roster after the freeze expires at midnight on Tuesday. According to AHL transactions, the team officially reassigned rookie Zach Sanford on Dec. 23, but it was a paperwork move to conserve cap space. He was recalled on Tuesday, and Sanford’s been practicing with the Capitals and took morning skate with them in Brooklyn on Tuesday.
Trotz said the Capitals had considered reassigning Vrana for a few days, but because he was recalled before Dec. 11, he couldn’t be sent down after Dec. 19 with the roster freeze rules. Sanford won’t be in the lineup on Tuesday night, as Vrana will get another opportunity to show that if the Capitals decide to send a player down this week, it shouldn’t be him.
“I like the 22 better than the 23,” Trotz said. “We’ll look at that after the 27th.”
— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) December 19, 2016
>>> After a three-day break for the holidays, the Capitals flew to New York on Tuesday morning and then hit the ice for the first time since Friday. Trotz said the only thing different in the morning skate was one additional drill for a slightly longer warmup.
With Washington’s schedule crammed until the all-star break, Trotz was happy the Capitals got a few days of rest. He said there’s no trick to hitting the ground running in the first game back from a longer-than-usual break.
“I think it’s just the mindset; you’ve got a game against a good team [in the Islanders],” Trotz said. “We’ve had a good rivalry over the past few years, so I think just come ready to play. I think the three day break was fantastic for everybody. I’m not a big fan of playing during the holidays, so I think it was perfect. Let’s get back at it and go to work.”
>>> Because Washington will be playing a game every other day through January 17, Trotz said spreading minutes throughout the lineup becomes especially important.
“There’s certain players that are obviously more offensive players that if you’re trailing the game, you’re going to play them a little bit more and your defensive players more when you’re winning, but when you start playing four and five games a week, that’s when you spread the minutes out right across the board,” Trotz said. “Every night you’re going to look for sort a new line or someone contributing on all four lines that you can stay consistent because when you start playing five games a week and you’re taxing your top players big time, at some point it’ll come back and bite you, so we just want to avoid that if we can.”
Here’s what the lineup is expected to look like on Tuesday night:
Marcus Johansson-Nicklas Backstrom-T.J. Oshie
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Justin Williams
Jakub Vrana-Lars Eller-Andre Burakovsky
Brett Connolly-Jay Beagle-Tom Wilson
Karl Alzner-John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik-Nate Schmidt
Braden Holtby (starter)