CALGARY — Washington Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan has a few goals for his middling team over the next month: start to string together wins, stay within striking distance of a playoff spot and continue to buy time until injured players return.
“The margin for error with our team right now, it’s small,” MacLellan said Saturday before Washington’s dismal 5-2 loss to Calgary. “Probably for a lot of teams throughout the league. You can’t make mistakes. You can’t have a stretch where your power play is 0 for 21 or something like that. It’s going to hurt you. And it’s been hurting us. Lately it’s been better, but it hurts us.”
After falling to Calgary, the Capitals woke up Sunday morning four points out of a wild-card spot. Washington has two games left on its six-game road trip, with a 1-2-1 record through four. The Capitals play Edmonton on Monday and Philadelphia on Wednesday.
“We have to come out of this trip still competitive,” MacLellan said. “There’s a couple teams in front of us. You pay attention to Florida, you pay attention to New York, Detroit — we got to stay in the mix here and then grow it from there.”
The Capitals have shown flashes of an aggressive, offensive-heavy game in this stretch, but they haven’t been able to consistently capitalize. MacLellan said Washington’s late-game issues — struggling to score or giving up the equalizer after self-inflicted errors — have repeatedly cost the team two points.
“We have to be concerned,” MacLellan said of the Capitals’ season outlook. “We dug ourselves a hole. … For us to get through this, our top players have to be our top players, and they have to carry us.”
Evgeny Kuznetsov has only 17 points this season, and Anthony Mantha has 12 (six goals, six assists). John Carlson has had an inconsistent year — both offensively and defensively. Captain Alex Ovechkin has 13 goals and 12 assists, but he’s still off his offensive pace from last year.
“Those guys have to carry our team,” MacLellan said. “That’s just the reality of it.”
MacLellan: Backstrom is ‘progressing well’
MacLellan reported positive news about Nicklas Backstrom, who underwent hip resurfacing surgery in the offseason, and Tom Wilson, who is still recovering from an ACL tear in his left knee. Both have been skating in recent weeks.
Backstrom skated with the team a handful of times before its road trip. MacLellan said Backstrom has been “progressing well” and there have been no setbacks.
“His rehab is going well, and I don’t know that it has been tested, but we would like to see him in a practice and [taking] contact. … That will come in the next little bit, I hope,” MacLellan said.
Wilson has yet to practice with the team, but he has been taking part in individual skates. Washington expects to get a better picture of his progress in the next few weeks. Beck Malenstyn, who had surgery to fix a broken finger in early November, is also still on track to return within the next month.
Dmitry Orlov, who has been out since early November with a lower-body injury, has missed 13 straight games. MacLellan said his injury has been tough to identify and treat.
“It’s lingered on a lot longer than anyone anticipated,” MacLellan said. “Seems to be headed in a positive direction, which is why he’s come out for the trip. We’ll see how it goes over the next couple of days.”
MacLellan cautioned Saturday that it would be hard for the Capitals to make any major roster moves as they continue to hope that Wilson and Backstrom can both return this season.
“To help our team, you would have to add a high-end guy — you know, a top-six guy — but they are $5 million, $6 million,” MacLellan said. “You can’t add that player while you are bringing two guys back from [long-term injured reserve]. That’s why we say our top guys have to carry us to that point.”