The Washington Capitals will welcome back two key pieces of their lineup when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday.
Forwards Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson each will make his season debut after missing the first half of the season due to injury. Backstrom had offseason hip surgery to help a nagging injury that affected his ability to skate while Wilson had surgery in May to repair a torn ACL.
“Obviously we want to keep moving forward with what we’re doing as a team, but you’re also talking about a couple of big pieces on our team as well,” Washington coach Peter Laviolette said.
“These are two big pieces of our organization. Nick, obviously for a long time, and Tom, the impact that he has had for the last five years, his years just keep getting better and better, and he’s moving into the prime of his career. We’re excited to get these guys back.”
The Capitals have alternated wins and losses over their past five games, going 2-1-2 in that span, following a five-game winning streak and a stretch in which they won 10 of 11. Each of their past three losses have been by one goal; they haven’t lost by more than that since a 5-2 setback against the Calgary Flames on Dec. 3.
“I think the team is playing great,” Backstrom said. “It’s not easy to just jump in playing right away after missing so long. But at the end of the day, you’ve just got to get in there right away, and hopefully you can get some help from your teammates because they’re on a roll and maybe it makes stuff easier for you.”
The Blue Jackets enter the contest after a 4-3 shootout victory against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday, their second win in the past four games after a seven-game losing streak.
Rookie Kirill Marchenko had his first NHL hat trick vs. the Hurricanes, accounting for all three Columbus tallies in regulation.
“For me it was my dream, scoring three goals at home for the fans,” he said. “Thank you so much to the fans. It was great.”
Marchenko has eight goals in 15 games since making his NHL debut on Dec. 6.
“He’s so coachable,” Columbus head coach Brad Larsen said. “He wants to learn, and it’s not just the offensive side. He’s coming to you with really good questions. He wants to see video on certain things to get better.”
The Blue Jackets remain second-to-last in the NHL overall, four points out the league basement, held by the Chicago Blackhawks. Their 99 goals scored and 2.61 goals-for per game each rank third fewest in the league while their 3.95 goals-against per game is second-most allowed.
Despite their constant struggles, Larsen liked what he saw in the win against Carolina.
“The battle level was there,” Larsen said after the game. “It wasn’t total team — there were a few guys still that we’ve got some things to work through — but there was a lot of great efforts tonight.”
Sunday will mark the second meeting in four days between the two teams, with the Capitals posting a 6-2 victory on Thursday in Columbus.
–Field Level Media