Caps look to bounce back after loss to Dallas
Last week, after the Capitals claimed defenseman Alex Urbom off waivers, Adam Oates said he didn’t want to throw the 22-year-old rookie to the wolves by playing him in Dallas after just one practice with the Caps.
Instead, Oates went against his own right-left philosophy and used the right-handed shooting Steve Oleksy on the left side of the ice on a pairing with right-handed rookie Connor Carrick.
But with the Caps in the midst of three straight practices before returning to action Thursday night at home against the Carolina Hurricanes [6:30 p.m., CSN], Urbom’s debut as a Capital could be just days away.
On Tuesday Urbom took turns with Oleksy playing alongside Carrick, who has one goal and is a minus-2 while averaging 13:37 in his first three games.
“We didn’t throw him to the wolves in Dallas because he just got here and I wanted to get Steve in the lineup,” Oates said Tuesday. “Now he has the chance to get four days of practice with the group and get more acclimated with the players.
“We’re trying to get him as comfortable as we can so when he gets his chance he succeeds.”
At 22, Urbom is still a bit of a project. He’s big [6-foot-4, 215 pounds], skates well and has played the left side his entire career, but Oates often describes him as “raw” and Urbom says he’s still learning to play with the physicality the Devils hoped for when they took him in the third round of the 2009 NHL draft.
“I’m still working on what I’m good at,” said Urbom, who has played 14 games for the Devils over the past three seasons. “I skate good and use my body and play physical. I need to keep doing what I’ve been doing. Hopefully, I can get that [NHL] experience.”
The underlying question, of course, is how comfortable the Caps are having a 22-year-old defenseman with 14 games of NHL experience playing alongside a 19-year-old rookie [Carrick] with three games under his belt.
Oleksy said he felt “very comfortable” on the left side of Carrick in Saturday night’s 2-1 loss to the Stars but is unsure what the Caps’ plan is for Thursday night.
If Urbom is not the answer – and it appears the Caps are willing to take the time to find out – there have been rampant rumors in Toronto that the Leafs might be willing to part with 23-year-old, left-handed defenseman Jake Gardiner, an offensive-minded blue liner who two seasons ago recorded seven goals and 23 assists in 75 NHL games.
Right now, the Caps appear willing to see how things play out.
“He’s a big, strong kid who can skate good,” Oates said. “He’s raw. But he came over [from Sweden] to play in the Western League, which says a lot that he was willing to do that.
“Defensemen sometimes take a little longer to get acclimated in this league. I know the way the Devils work with their dee, so my understanding is that he’s been taught well, so we’re getting a good raw talent.”
Taxing Green: Through three games, Mike Green is averaging 28:18 of ice time, which ranks second among NHL defensemen behind Minnesota’s Ryan Suter [30:34].
“We’re playing him a little too much, more than we’d like,” Oates said. “That’s a product of being behind in the games, but we’ve got to try to win.”
Latta love: The Caps recalled Michael Latta on Tuesday and Oates threw him a bone by letting him practice on a top line with Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson. Now that Jack Hillen and his $700,000 salary have been placed on LTI, Oates said Latta is likely to remain as the Caps’ 14th forward.
“He did a good job and we wanted to let him know he did a good job,” Oates said.
Congrats to Backstrom: Caps center Nicklas Backstrom, 25, became a first-time father early on Tuesday when his girlfriend Liza Berg, gave birth to a baby girl.
Oates said Backstrom texted him with the news and Oates gave him the rest of Tuesday off.
Brooks Laich said he’s happy for Backstrom and said he’ll make a good father. But he seemed mildly surprised that Backstrom, who came to the Caps as a 19-year-old, is now old enough to raise a family of his own.
“Nicky’s dad is a good man and Nicky always has been a fantastic kid,” Laich said. “Now our little guy is grown up, but he’ll be a great dad. He’s a guy that really cares. He understands family. Family is very, very important to him, it’s No.1 to him. He’ll be a fantastic dad.”