Projecting what the Capitals lineup may look like with Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson back from injury

Projecting what the Capitals lineup may look like with Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson back from injury

The Washington Capitals will return star forwards Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson to their lineup for the first time this season on Sunday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

In order to make these big moves, some tough roster decisions had to be made, and the Caps will look very different moving forward. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how they could potentially line up now that the roster spots are open for Backstrom and Wilson.


First, I’ll try to get inside Peter Laviolette’s head and predict what he’ll actually throw on the ice, at least as Backstrom and Wilson start to return. It will be more “realistic” and factor in Aliaksei Protas being sent to Hershey and Joe Snively being placed on waivers.

Second, I’ll go through the team regardless the Capitals have landed Aliaksei Protas and waived Joe Snively. This is what the Caps would look like if Chris Cerullo played “Franchise Mode” in a video game with them. It will be a more “for fun” version of the team that still takes into account injury context, salary cap and other factors.

Fine, fine. Let’s do this.

Note: Statistical data included in this post comes courtesy of and

Anticipating what Lavy will do



Scratches: Sonny Milano, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Alex Alexeyev

Alex Ovechkin has recently returned with Evgeny Kuznetsov to the team’s main line for several games. Could this be because this is the planned main line moving forward and Lavy wanted to give Ovi and Kuzy some reps playing together again in preparation? Maybe. Outside of that, it’s a top line the team has used for more than 558 five-on-five minutes in Lavy’s first two seasons in charge of the Caps. He’s kind of an “old faithful,” they won a Cup with him, and it makes sense for Wilson to return to some kind of familiarity. We’ve heard hints since Training Camp that Dylan Strome would possibly play on the wing at some point this season. In recent practices, due to the involvement of Backstrom and Wilson, he has skated to the wing during some line rushes. I don’t think he’ll leave the top six unless he moves back to center, so he’ll be on the left side of the second line with his left tackle, where he played some during the preseason. Backstrom and TJ Oshie is a tried and true pairing (478 5v5 minutes combined since 2020-21) but I could also potentially see Conor Sheary and Oshie back here. The third line is where I think I might end up going wrong the most. I haven’t been able to get a very good read on what Lavy really thinks of Marcus Johansson due to the barrage of injuries. If it’s Kuznetsov or Strome who leave the first power play unit in favor of Backstrom, then I think Johansson is probably staying in. -The production of the force must stay in the formation. I don’t think Lars Eller is going anywhere yet. Anthony Mantha’s default position will be on the left wing of the fourth line, which would have been absolutely strange to hear a few months ago. I think they’ve tried that over the last couple of games for a reason and Mantha is the best defense on that line of scrimmages set up super defensively with the way Laviolette has set things up. Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway are simply inseparable. Finally, Matt Irwin is one of Lavy’s favorites and he’s really done just about everything he’s been asked to do, so he’s hanging in there. The sixth back spot is really the only one at the end worth any conversation due to John Carlson’s long-term injury.

What would Chris do



Scratches: Marcus Johansson, Lars Eller, Matt Irwin

As you can immediately tell, my Caps fantasy roster has seen Joe Snively and Nicolas Aube-Kubel waived. NAK has offered something different in the Caps lineup, but that’s only because Wilson wasn’t in it. Snively needs to go somewhere and play. Whether it’s on Hershey’s top line or elsewhere in the NHL where there’s less high-end talent blocking it. I’d stick with the front line that has produced fantastic results in their combined 237 minutes this season and simply kept Alex Ovechkin in the offensive zone more often than not. With Ovi, Dylan Strome and Conor Sheary on the ice this season in five-on-five, the players are getting 50.6 percent of shot attempts, 57 percent of expected goals, 53.4 percent of scoring chances and 57.5 percent of cases. high risk odds. Don’t walk away from it while it’s working. If Anthony Mantha is going to play up to his salary and what his post-game stats suggest this season, he needs to do so with more of the team’s offensive talent. He is an excellent defensive winger, as is Wilson, who pairs well with Kuznetsov’s shortcomings. Since getting Mantha, the Caps see almost 54 percent of their expected goals when he’s on the ice in a five-on-five matchup with Kuznetsov. It’s a couple that works. I’m team Sonny Milano all the way. Among all NHL forwards who have played at least 200 five-on-five minutes this season, Milano ranks 24th in total points per 60 minutes. I think he would fit extremely well with a healthy Backstrom and provide a nice speed component to the more cerebral duo of Backstrom and Oshie. Both Marcus Johansson and Lars Eller sit for me. If you could combine both players at this stage of their careers into one, you would have a great player. They just don’t do enough individually right now. Aliaksei Protas isn’t going anywhere if I’m in charge. He has formed a true force of nature on the fourth line with Hathaway and Dowd. First, I’ll list the ice zones and the number of snaps this line has faced in those zones this season. They have taken 118 defensive zone faceoffs, 75 neutral zone faceoffs and just 16 offensive zone faceoffs in more than 193 minutes of five-on-five ice time. For several lines, these numbers would indicate that they are terrible and heavily surrounded in their area. It’s the opposite case here as those three are set to start the vast majority of their shifts out of the offensive zone and against opposing top lines. And the numbers they put in those minutes? 54.8 percent of shot attempts, 63.3 percent of expected goals, 57.9 percent of scoring chances and 61 percent of high-danger chances. Lastly, I would only play Alex Alexeyev because I think he needs consistent minutes as a younger defenseman. He has not hurt the team when he plays. Neither has Matt Irwin, but when I can sprinkle some youth into the Caps lineup, I will.

Okay, now you have my thoughts on what I think Lavy will do and what I would do. We’ll see how well I did when the puck drops at 5pm on Sunday night.

Now, what would you do if you were in charge? Post your model lineups in the comments.

Header photo: Elizabeth Kong/RMNB

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