Brian Pinho initially couldn’t suppress the nerves of stepping on the ice for his first practice with the Washington Capitals on Wednesday morning, joining a hardened roster preparing for the Stanley Cup playoffs less than two weeks after he finished his college career at Providence. The 22-year-old Pinho passed 32-year-old Alex Ovechkin, who sat behind the glass and autographed hundreds of sticks. He skated next to Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, and when he returned to the dressing room afterward, found his empty locker next to veteran goaltender Braden Holtby.
“It was a little different,” said Pinho, who signed a two-year entry level deal Wednesday morning. “I was a little nervous, but I settled in.”
Pinho could settle in without any guarantees that he will play in Washington’s final two regular season games Thursday or Saturday, which statistically won’t matter after the Capitals won the Metropolitan Division last week.
But those two home games, against Nashville on Thursday and New Jersey on Saturday, will present a handful of forwards such as Pinho a chance to make an impression and seize one of the three open wing spots on the playoff roster. That group of players is perhaps eight deep: Pinho, Brett Connolly, Chandler Stephenson, Alex Chiasson, Shane Gersich, Travis Boyd, Jakub Vrana and Devante-Smith Pelly.
Pinho would be a long shot to win any time — “There’s no promises he gets into the game,” Washington Coach Barry Trotz said — but his arrival on Wednesday was symbolic of how fluid the Capitals’ roster remains with just three days remaining in the regular season. His interactions in the locker room were a reminder of the team’s effort to stack depth before the postseason, which wasn’t necessarily the case in recent years when Washington’s playoff rosters were essentially set during the final weeks of the regular season.
Pinho was greeted by Gersich, who joined the team two weeks ago after completing his junior season at North Dakota and has played in just two career games. Pinho also received advice from Boyd, who made his NHL debut in December but was eventually sent back down to the team’s minor league affiliate in Hershey before getting recalled to Washington in late February.
“I told [Pinho] it’s just another hockey locker room. It’s just a different feeling,” Boyd said. “Not that long ago, I was up here for the first time, playing my first game. I know what he’s feeling. It’s a nerve-racking experience to walk into this locker room, and see Ovechkin on the other side of it.”
Ovechkin took a maintenance day on Wednesday and rolled in a chair to sign sticks on the edge of the ice while his teammates took part in a practice that carried something of a training-camp feel. Gersich, Boyd and Pinho have all spent time together in the organization’s development camps during the past few years, something that wasn’t lost on each as they scrapped to impress the coaching staff on Wednesday.
Still, Trotz said “loyalty has to go to guys that got you to this position,” which would seem to bode well for Connolly, Stephenson, Chiasson, Vrana and Smith-Pelly. But Gersich has shown flashes in his two games, and Boyd has logged five of his seven career games in March. Both will likely play in the final two regular season games.
As for Pinho, he was simply acclimating on Wednesday. He has framed the jersey that was awarded to him by the team when he was drafted in 2013, and he looked at it every day while at Providence. He is still waiting for a chance to wear the Capitals’ real uniform, but practicing for the first time with a team preparing for the playoffs was enough of a thrill.
“It’s a little different than development camp. The pace is a little quicker,” he said. “It was a good first day.”
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