Capitals have new look after bevy of trade deadline changes

Capitals have new look after bevy of trade deadline changes

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ARLINGTON, Va. – When the Washington Capitals embarked on a four-game road trip in late February, the players knew change was coming.

Dmitry Orlov and Garnet Hathaway had moved on to NHL-leading Boston, and there were plenty of other pending free agents still on the roster with days left until the deadline. One by one, they left: Marcus Johansson in Minnesota, Lars Eller in Colorado and Erik Gustafsson in Toronto.

The team that showed up for the first home practice on Wednesday after all those moves looked very different. Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals core remain in place to chase fading playoff hopes, but it’s also a rare period of transition in Washington after the organization’s first deadline sale in more than a decade.

“You hate to see guys leave,” said defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, one of only two unsigned players beyond this offseason not traded. “It happens quickly. Obviously, this time of year when you’re not in the position you want to be, there seems to be more change than you’d like.”

Due to a combination of trades and injuries, more than half of the skaters expected to play Thursday night against the New Jersey Devils were not in the opening night lineup — four of them weren’t even with the organization.

Chief among the new faces is Rasmus Sandin, a Swedish defender who turned 23 on Tuesday. Acquired from the Maple Leafs for a first-round pick and Gustafsson, Sandin is part of the Capitals’ plan to try to bounce back quickly from a rough year and win again next season.

“I think we want to be competitive next year,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “I still think we want to be competitive this year. I still think we have a pretty good team.”

This defeated team will try to climb up to extend the streak of Capitals playoff appearances to nine.

Five points back of the second and final wild-card spot left in the Eastern Conference is no small gap to close with 17 games remaining. But Washington is close enough, even after the trade, to still feel like part of the postseason race.

“You keep looking at the standings and we’re only a few points back, and we play a lot of those teams that are a group ahead of us, so if you can win those games it can change a lot,” van Riemsdyk. said.

“We have a lot of guys who have played playoff hockey, know what it’s like to be in big games, so it looks like we’ll have a lot of them in the final stretch and hopefully we can draw on that experience and use. it’s to our advantage.”

And one key player could be back on the ice before the end of the month: Senior defenseman John Carlson practiced with his teammates Wednesday for the first time since the Dec. 23 slap to the head.

Carlson skated in a non-contact jersey and is still at least a few weeks away from returning, but his presence on the ice alone is a sign of progress.

“That’s a long shot,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “But there’s a process that goes with where he’s at and what he’s been through, and that’s the beginning of the process until he joins our team.”

Washington’s slide in the rankings coincided with Carlson’s absence and the number of players asked to make up for it. Since then, the team has lost 17 of 30 games.

More injuries on the blue line over the past week, plus the trades of Orlov and Gustafsson, have weighed heavily on Sandini, a newcomer who is so young he was initially unrecognizable walking into the practice facility for the first time. But with veteran Swede Nicklas Backstrom around — and plenty of other new faces — Sandin is struggling to adjust quickly to the Capitals.

“As soon as you walk in here, you see how tight this group is,” Sandin said. “From when I first came in the first morning, all the guys on this team just welcomed me with open arms. They’ve made it very easy for me and it’s just a lot of fun to be here.”

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