With Boyd re­turn­ing, it’s de­ci­sion time for Caps

Cecil Whig - - NATIONAL SPORTS -

— One mis­sion con­sumed for­ward Travis Boyd all sum­mer: He wanted to make the Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals’ ros­ter out of train­ing camp and be in the open­ing-night lineup.

He’d more than paid his dues with three suc­cess­ful sea­sons in the Amer­i­can Hockey League. He’d even had a chance to play at the start of the pre­vi­ous post­sea­son, when cen­ter Jay Bea­gle was in­jured, but was side­lined by a virus that left him on the out­side look­ing in as Wash­ing­ton rolled to a fran­chise-first Stan­ley Cup.

Then just as Boyd was con­tend­ing to be the Cap­i­tals’ fourth-line cen­ter this pre­sea­son, he in­jured his left foot block­ing a shot and landed on long-term in­jured re­serve.

Healthy his en­tire AHL ca­reer, Boyd had hit a streak of bad luck.

“Ob­vi­ously, no one ever wants to get hurt, and just tim­ing-wise for me, it was pretty bad tim­ing, given my sit­u­a­tion, and re­ally tough,” he said.

Boyd is el­i­gi­ble to come off in­jured re­serve ahead of Thurs­day’s game against the Mon­treal Cana­di­ens, but tim­ing could again work against him. Even if he is healthy, the Cap­i­tals would have to make a cor­re­spond­ing move to clear a ros­ter spot to ac­ti­vate him. With for­ward Tom Wil­son sus­pended for 10 more games — pend­ing an ap­peal — for an il­le­gal check to the head, Wash­ing­ton is al­ready car­ry­ing an ex­tra for­ward, not in­clud­ing Boyd. Any player cur­rently on the NHL ros­ter — ex­cept for Jakub Vrana, who’s skat­ing on the top line — would have to be ex­posed to waivers to be re­as­signed to the AHL.

While the Cap­i­tals can put of f ac­ti­vat­ing Boyd for a short while,

(WPNS)

they’re near­ing a de­ci­sion for who they want to keep around and, in the big­ger pic­ture, how they want their fourth line to look. Wash­ing­ton likely will choose be­tween waiv­ing for ward Dmitrij Jaskin, who the team picked up on waivers just be­fore the sea­son, and Aussie Nathan Walker, who was swiped on waivers from the Cap­i­tals a year ago when Ed­mon­ton claimed him. The Cap­i­tals later re­claimed Walker when the Oil­ers placed him on waivers. The Cap­i­tals would be at risk at los­ing ei­ther to an­other team. Walker has ap­peared in three games while Jaskin has played in seven; they each have tal­lied one as­sist.

When asked about Jaskin’s pro­duc­tion, coach Todd Reirden said “there’s still more there” and pointed to Jaskin’s team-best 59 shot-at­tempt per­cent­age, mean­ing Wash­ing­ton is tak­ing the ma­jor­ity of the shot at­tempts when he’s on the ice.

“For me, it’s still very early in the process with him, so we need to con­tinue to push the en­ve­lope with him and see where it can take us, be­cause you watch in prac­tice and he does a lot of great things with the puck,” Reirden said. “I haven’t been able to com­pletely see that trans­late into a game yet. Also, it’s early to ex­pect im­me­di­ate re­turns. We’ll con­tinue to eval­u­ate him and see how he makes our lineup the best it can be.”

Through 10 games, the Cap­i­tals’ pro­duc­tion has been top heavy and bol­stered by the team’s league-best power play; six for­wards have more than four even­strength points, and all but one (Brett Con­nolly) are cur­rently play­ing in the top-six for ward corps. Be­fore the sea­son started, Gen­eral Man­ager Brian MacLel­lan said he thought the fourth line in par­tic­u­lar could have more skill and speed than in sea­sons past.

While cen­ter Nic Dowd is con­sid­ered the bet­ter de­fen­sive for­ward with his spe­cialty on face­offs and the penalty kill, Reirden ac­knowl­edged that Boyd could have more of­fen­sive up­side. But he would now also have to push Dowd out of the lineup, and Dowd hasn’t done any­thing to de­serve that.

“We didn’t for­get about how [Boyd’s] train­ing camp went and the things he’s been able to,” Reirden said. “Our team, we can con­tinue to im­prove and get bet­ter in some ar­eas. I think we’ve got­ten a lit­tle bit more sec­ondary scor­ing here in the last few games, but we’re still look­ing to add to that, and that’s an im­por­tant com­po­nent of any suc­cess­ful team in this league, be­ing able to have four lines that can score. He’s a guy that’s earned that op­por­tu­nity, and we’ve got to put him in the right sit­u­a­tion to suc­ceed when he gets that chance. ...

“Depth-wise for us, he’s a guy that scored quite a bit in the Amer­i­can League and is a guy we’ve com­mit­ted to for two years. We think a lot of him. It’s an in­jur y that derails him, but I thought he came to camp in shape and ready to go.”

Boyd felt the same, but as he sat at his dress­ing room stall Tues­day af­ter­noon, he lamented miss­ing a month of game ac­tion that can’t be repli­cated in prac­tices. It felt like an op­por­tu­nity missed. He might have to wait to get it again.

“I felt like I had a chance to be here and play game one,” he said. “And then I got hurt. There’s noth­ing you can do about it now. ...

“Hope­fully, if I’m given a chance, then hope­fully I can pick up where I left off.”

AP PHOTO

Cap­i­tals cen­ter Travis Boyd in ac­tion against the Light­ning dur­ing a game last sea­son.

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