The 195th overall pick five years ago, defenseman Christian Djoos found out Wednesday morning that his NHL debut has arrived. The stage would’ve felt monumental to Djoos no matter the opponent, but Djoos will get his first taste of playing with the Capitals against their fiercest rival in the Penguins, the team that has knocked Washington out of the playoffs the past two seasons.
“I just felt like every day, I kept getting better at camp,” Djoos said. “You just keep working hard, and the chance is going to come. … At some point, the chance is going to come to play, and today is that day.”
The change to play Djoos and scratch veteran Taylor Chorney comes after the team allowed 40 shots in a 4-3 overtime loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Chorney was on the ice for the game-tying goal in the third period by Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov, and he didn’t get another shift after that. Washington’s bottom three defensemen are three left-handed shots, and Chorney has been playing his off side on the right while Aaron Ness has been on the left. On Wednesday night, Trotz will have Ness on the right side while Djoos will be on the left.
“It’s a little bit based on playing the right side,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “I think it’s tough. [Chorney] has played all of his games over there, but he’s had a little bit of a rough patch here. … Chor is a real good pro for us, so that’s always a tough scratch for us just because he comes to be a real pro and he works on his craft and that. So, he’ll get reset, and we want to see where Nesser is on the right side, too.”
After Washington’s loss Monday night, Trotz mentioned some of the defensemen were fatigued. While the duo of Chorney and Ness played 10:17 and 8:56, respectively, Matt Niskanen, John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov each skated more than 25 minutes, and Orlov finished with a game-high 27:33 time on ice. Trotz said that’s not sustainable for much longer.
“I don’t think that’s where we want to be,” Trotz said. “It’s early in the season, and we can do it. [The games] are spread out a little bit, but as we go along here, that’s why we have a little bit of lead time where we can do that until everybody sort of settles in.”
Djoos made the Capitals’ opening-night roster, but he’s been a healthy scratch for the team’s first three games. In the American Hockey League last season, he scored 13 goals and his 45 assists were tied for the most among defensemen. The reviews on how the 23-year-old Swede acquitted himself in the preseason were mixed. “He’s shown flashes of a real good skill level that we’re going to be able to use, but he also has some deficiencies that we have to work through,” General Manager Brian MacLellan said last week.
Trotz thought playing Djoos in a home game would be best because the Capitals have more control over the matchups with last change. Djoos’s father, Per Djoos, played 82 career NHL games with the New York Rangers and the Detroit Red Wings, and he’ll be at Capital One Arena for Christian’s debut.
Trotz’s advice for the rookie?
“Have fun,” he said. “It’s only going to come by once in your lifetime. Enjoy the moment because it is a fantastic moment. … It is a first accomplishment and hopefully one of many.”
>>> Though forward Tom Wilson’s four-game suspension for boarding is over after Wednesday night’s game against the Penguins, Trotz said the Capitals still intend to carry a 23-man roster with two extra forwards “right now.” Forward Jakub Vrana is the only player on the team who doesn’t require waivers to be sent down to the AHL, so Washington doesn’t want to risk another team swiping its player.
With Wilson expected back in the lineup, likely beside center Lars Eller on the third line, two of forwards Alex Chiasson, Tyler Graovac, Nathan Walker and Devante Smith-Pelly will be out of the lineup on a regular basis.
“Ideally, I think, in the perfect scenario, 22 [players] is my preference,” Trotz said. “Sometimes the rules in terms of waivers and all that change the rules, but for me, I prefer to have one extra forward and one extra D, just because it’s not only easier to get guys in, but they feel they’re closer to the mark, if you will.”
>>> Trotz was asked about the team’s emotions before Washington plays Pittsburgh for the first time since the Penguins beat the Capitals in Game 7 of the teams’ second-round series in May.
“Just hatred,” he said. “You hate the guys that bumped you out, and all the credit to the Penguins. They’ve been the standard for the last two seasons and we’ve had to try to get by them and we have not. We got to overtime in Game 6 [in 2016] and we got to Game 7 last year. So we’re inching our way closer. It doesn’t feel very good, but at the same time you have to give them credit. They got it done. It hasn’t been done in a while and I saw [Coach Mike Sullivan’s] interview at the White House [on Tuesday], and he said now they’re focusing on three. So good on them. We’re focusing on hopefully not letting them have three and so is the rest of the League, though. There’s 30 other teams that are on the same focus.”
>>> Alex Ovechkin will now “exclusively play and train” with CCM hockey equipment, the company announced Wednesday. Ovechkin had used Bauer equipment for the past six years, but with that deal having expired, Ovechkin has been using CCM sticks and skates to start the season, scoring two hat tricks with that equipment in the first two games.
Here’s Washington’s expected lineup against Pittsburgh on Wednesday night:
Andre Burakovsky-Nicklas Backstrom-T.J. Oshie
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Jakub Vrana
Brett Connolly-Lars Eller-Alex Chiasson
Tyler Graovac-Jay Beagle-Devante Smith-Pelly
Scratches: Nathan Walker, Tom Wilson (suspended)
Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik-John Carlson
Christian Djoos-Aaron Ness
Scratch: Taylor Chorney
Braden Holtby (starter)