DALLAS — It has been more than two months since the Washington Capitals had a clean bill of health. They were the healthiest team in the NHL last season, but they’ve already lost 67 man-games to injury this season, with their full roster available for just the first five games. With T.J. Oshie poised to play Tuesday night at the Dallas Stars after missing six games with a concussion, the Capitals will at last be back to full strength.
“It means relief,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “It means that we’ve got a little depth. We were playing with house money a little bit.”
Washington went 5-1 while Oshie was out, rising to first place in the Metropolitan Division. Oshie will slot right back into his usual duties, skating on the second line with center Evgeny Kuznetsov and Jakub Vrana as well as on the top power-play unit. Oshie said this was his fourth documented concussion, and he has had different results when he has come back to the lineup each time. Oshie has 10 goals and 13 assists in 28 games this season.
“As of now, I’m ready to go and symptom-free,” Oshie said. “Sometimes it takes a little bit; it really all depends. Every concussion has felt a little bit different. I’ve gone through some different parts. Sometimes I’ve came back and felt great. Sometimes I’ve felt like everything was moving really fast, and it’s hard for me to mentally keep up.”
With Oshie back and everyone healthy, forward Devante Smith-Pelly will be a healthy scratch against the Stars, marking the first time he has been out of the lineup all season. An offseason signing, Smith-Pelly has five goals and six assists in 34 games, eclipsing his production from 53 games with the New Jersey Devils last season. But Smith-Pelly doesn’t get a lot of special teams time, unlike Alex Chiasson (who kill penalties), and Trotz values the speed that Chandler Stephenson brings to the bottom-six forward corps. That left Smith-Pelly as the odd man out.
“I said there’s certain things that I have to do a little bit in terms of roles that we have on our team, and there’s certain guys I need in certain situations,” Trotz said. “And also, there’s certain guys that I need them to find their game a little bit. You’re out tonight, but I didn’t tell him he was playing poorly. Obviously, we can all play better, and as coaches, we want them to play better, but I just said, ‘It’s a coach’s decision; nothing on you. Just be ready to go, and you’ll get another opportunity to get back in. When you do, just be really good.’ ”
Walker on waivers
Forward Nathan Walker was waived by the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday, meaning the Capitals might have an opportunity to get the Aussie back. Washington waived Walker last month with the intent of sending him down to the American Hockey League, but he was claimed by the Oilers. Walker played in two games and didn’t score a point, then was placed on waivers again.
The Capitals selected Walker in the third round of the 2014 draft, so losing a prospect to waivers is never ideal. After making the team out of training camp, he became the first Australian to play in the NHL, even scoring a goal in his debut. But he played in just nine games, beat out by other players for consistent time in the lineup.
At least one other team put in a claim on Walker the last time he was on waivers, according to a league source. If no team other than the Capitals puts in a claim this time, Walker can be sent directly to the AHL’s Hershey Bears.
The Stars are what Trotz has coined a “unicorn team” for the Capitals. Washington hasn’t won in regulation in Dallas since Oct. 17, 1995, before current Capitals forward Jakub Vrana was born. Washington won in overtime here last year, but Dallas is riding a 15-game point streak against the Capitals.
“This team accepts challenges,” Trotz said. “We’ve had a couple unicorn teams that we’ve had to dispose of. Dallas has had a great record against the Capitals for a long time, so we’ll see if we can change that a little bit.”
Here’s how Washington’s lineup is expected to look Tuesday night:
Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana-Evgeny Kuznetsov-T.J. Oshie
Andre Burakovsky-Lars Eller-Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson-Jay Beagle-Alex Chiasson
Scratched: Devante Smith-Pelly
Brooks Orpik-John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Christian Djoos-Madison Bowey
Scratched: Taylor Chorney
Braden Holtby (starter)
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