“Hopefully you guys will find out tomorrow,” he said with a chuckle.
McMichael appears slated to make his season debut Tuesday night, but Coach Peter Laviolette also didn’t give a firm answer on his lineup. McMichael would bump 19-year-old Hendrix Lapierre from the lineup. With Nicklas Backstrom on long-term injured reserve, Lapierre slotted in as the team’s third-line center for Washington’s first two games.
Backstrom is still at the “beginning of the process” to return, Laviolette said Monday. The 33-year-old center, who is dealing with an injured hip, has been occasionally skating on his own before practice but has not joined the team. The earliest Backstrom is eligible to return is Nov. 6 against Philadelphia.
“We obviously have a void that we need to fill for a little bit, and [Lapierre and McMichael] are natural center men. They’re both here; they’re both young,” Laviolette said. “This is their real first opportunity to get in and out of games, and so we want to take a look at both of them and get an evaluation on where they’re both at just for moving forward.”
Lapierre scored in his NHL debut Wednesday during a win over the New York Rangers. He then skated a team-low 7:26 at even strength Saturday in an overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Taking him out of Tuesday’s lineup would not be a response to his performance Saturday, Laviolette said; it would be about giving McMichael an opportunity.
“Lappy did some good things out on the ice. There’s things that we’ll go back today and we’ll show him and try to get better, but at the end of the day, [Tampa Bay was] dropping down to three lines quite a bit,” Laviolette said. “We were trying to make sure that we were doing the right things so that we could walk away with points as well.”
“They’re two amazing players,” McMichael said. “Oshie is really good with the puck, and Shears is pretty quick. That’s what I think I have in my game, so I think I’ll be able to do great on that line. . . . We had some pretty good chemistry at practice. I’m excited.”
McMichael said he thinks his family will be in the building Tuesday if he makes his season debut; that wasn’t possible for his first NHL game last season, when fans were not allowed in the arena. He appeared in just that one game, spending the rest of the season with Hershey of the American Hockey League.
If the Capitals wanted to have Lapierre and McMichael in the lineup, they could opt to put one at wing. That would require taking out a veteran, such as Carl Hagelin on the fourth line. But the coaching staff believes both young players are more suited to play center — and with offensive-minded players such as Oshie.
Laviolette also likes the consistency of his fourth line of Hagelin, Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway — who played together all of last season — and he lauded their efforts Saturday night.
“They were excellent,” Laviolette said. “They generated some chances, too. They certainly did their job. They compete so hard out there. It’s not just about defense; they do a good job getting into the offensive zone and looking to create, so they were good.”
For now, signs point to the Capitals juggling Lapierre and McMichael until Backstrom returns. With that timeline up in the air, McMichael’s goal has been — and still is — to stay ready.
“This [would] be my first real game since last season, so it might be a little rusty, but yeah, I’ll try and get the mind going tomorrow and remember all my routines,” he said.
Notes: As part of the NHL’s new television rights deal with ESPN, Tuesday night’s game will be broadcast exclusively on streaming services ESPN Plus and Hulu with Live TV. The Capitals are slated to have four games exclusive to those services this season; the next one is Dec. 10 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. . . .
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