“We’ll see where he is with the trainers,” Trotz said Wednesday of Kuznetsov’s availability Thursday night. “No promises. And I really don’t know. We’ll see where he is tomorrow.”
Washington has a four-point cushion over the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets for first place in the Metropolitan Division; with just nine games left in the regular season, that’s a fairly commanding lead. This trip against the Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers — teams well out of the playoff race — is an opportunity for the Capitals to secure the division’s top postseason position. Getting Kuznetsov back in the lineup would certainly help. He is the team’s second-leading scorer with 21 goals and 50 assists; he also plays on Washington’s first power play and is often the one making the zone entries go smoothly.
Before Kuznetsov appeared to hurt his left arm against the New York Islanders on Friday, he was centering the top line with captain Alex Ovechkin and winger Tom Wilson. Without him, center Nicklas Backstrom moved into that spot, and the ripple effect has rookie Travis Boyd as the third-line center with wingers Jakub Vrana and Brett Connolly. Since the start of the calendar year, Kuznetsov has nine goals and 23 assists in 31 games.
Wednesday’s practice was optional, but the Capitals announced that goaltender Braden Holtby wasn’t on the ice because he was taking a “maintenance day.” Holtby played the full game in Tuesday night’s 4-3 win over the Stars, but Dallas forward Remi Elie collided with Holtby halfway through the third period, and Holtby was initially slow to get up. Since Trotz wants to continue rotating goaltenders for the time being, Philipp Grubauer was expected to get the start in Detroit anyway.
“We’ve got some sickness and a couple guys with maintenance, so that’s why we’re optional today,” Trotz said.