After missing Friday night’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets with an undisclosed lower-body injury, Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson returned to practice Saturday and it seems likely he will play Sunday against the Arizona Coyotes.
Carlson leads the team in ice time with 26 minutes per game, playing on both the top power play and the penalty kill.
Carlson said his injury happened in the Capitals' game Wednesday against Pittsburgh, when he played more than 28 minutes and assisted on the game-winning goal. When asked if he’ll play Sunday, Carlson said, “I don’t know.”
“I’m just trying to do the right thing and feel the best at this point and do what’s right for myself and the team,” Carlson said.
“That was really a positive sign for him to skate [Saturday],” Coach Todd Reirden said. “We’ll see how he responds the rest of the day and [Sunday] morning. I hope to have him back [Sunday] night. We don’t want to put him in a situation where he can make anything worse, so he’s got to be real close to 100 percent if he’s going to be back in for us.”
Carlson has five goals and 13 assists in 14 games and is on track for the same high level of production he had last season, when he led all NHL defensemen in scoring with 68 points (15 goals, 53 assists). He is expected to be on a pairing with Dmitry Orlov, and Matt Niskanen will play with left-shot Michal Kempny, leaving a third pairing of Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey. Veteran Brooks Orpik is on long-term injured reserve with an undisclosed lower-body injury, and he is not eligible to play again until Nov. 21.
Top center Evgeny Kuznetsov was absent from Saturday’s practice; Reirden said Kuznetsov was excused for a family matter. Reirden expects Kuznetsov, who has six goals and 14 assists in 15 games, to play against Arizona, but even if Kuznetsov is in the lineup, he and captain Alex Ovechkin might be split for the first time all season. Ovechkin skated beside center Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, a trio that was one of the league’s best two years ago.
While the Capitals haven’t allowed an even-strength goal in two games, they have also scored just one.
“We’ve obviously played together in the past,” Oshie said. “Not quite finding what we want to in the lineup, so I think anything’s possible for [Sunday].”
Said Reirden: “We’re going to evaluate the lineup for sure once we know that Kuzy will be able to rejoin us. We were just looking at some different things [Saturday], and once we know that for certain, we’ll make some adjustments accordingly.”
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