If rumors are to be believed, injured forwards Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson are nearing a return for the Washington Capitals. Neither of which has played in a game this season, with Backstrom undergoing a fairly radical procedure on his hip and Wilson tore his ACL during the opening minutes of Washington’s playoff matchup with the Florida Panthers last season, so getting two proven veterans back in the lineup for the second half of the season would be massive.
In the interim though, there are still games to be played on the schedule and these matchups are vital for fringe players who will inevitably find minutes more difficult to come by when the dynamic duo returns to action. With the Nashville Predators in town, two bottom six forwards made a compelling case that coach Peter Laviolette should keep them in the lineup — as Sonny Milano and Nicolas Aube-Kubel each scored for the Capitals.
Unfortunately for the home team, the other primary storyline on the night was how many times the Capitals allowed the visitors to take the lead. Nashville opened the scoring barely four minutes into the contest on a goal by center Tommy Novak before Milano tied it up midway through the first period with his seventh goal of the season. The Predators regained the lead roughly five minutes later on a goal by center Yakov Trenin, only to see Washington tie it up once again on Aube-Kubel’s second goal of the season.
With less than four minutes to play in regulation though, the Caps’ luck ran out when defenseman Ryan McDonagh scored his first goal of the season.
“It was a tight game,” said Laviolette, of the 3-2 loss. “It was going to come down to who scored a goal in the third period or overtime or the shootout. I felt like it was fairly tight both ways. You had to fight for your ice out there.”
In a slightly different context that last sentence takes on an entirely different meaning. It’ll be interesting to see if guys vying to remain in the lineup receive the message now or are forced to confront it later.