Illness to Backstrom could see Eller reprise starring playoff role vs. Flyers

Illness to Backstrom could see Eller reprise starring playoff role vs. Flyers originally appeared on nbcsportswashington.com

The Capitals return home for their first game of the season against the Philadelphia Flyers tonight at Capital One Arena (7:30 p.m., NBC Sports Washington).

Washington (25-12-4) snapped a three-game losing streak Sunday with a win against the Detroit Red Wings and remains in first place in the Metropolitan Division. The Flyers (15-21-6) have lost seven in a row and are in last place. Here are some things to watch for in tonight’s rivalry game: 

1. No Nick? 

An ill Nicklas Backstrom skipped the morning skate and is a game-time decision. Backstrom is second on the team with 44 points (10 goals, 34 assists). If he can’t go, Washington simply reverts to its Stanley Cup playoff lineup last spring when Backstrom had a broken finger. Lars Eller will move up to the second line with Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie. Eller would join the top power-play unit, too. Backstrom missed the final game of the second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins and the first three games of the Eastern Conference Final against Tampa Bay.

Eller had two goals and two assists as the second-line center before Backstrom returned for Game 4 against the Lightning. It is a role he usually thrives in.  

2. Copley’s back

The Capitals have grown increasingly confident with Pheonix Copley in net. He starts against the Flyers for Braden Holtby tonight. This will be Copley’s fifth start in his past 11 games. The bonus? That should help keep Holtby fresh. He struggled at times during the regular season last year and was limited to 54 starts, his fewest since 2013-14. But unlike last year, Holtby hasn’t struggled.

The Caps needed former backup goalie Philipp Grubauer to play well during particularly rough stretches. Since Nov. 5, Holtby ranks third in even-strength save percentage (.938) and Copley is tied for fourth (.937). Together they are at .938 – best in the NHL over those 29 games. 

3. Struggling Flyers

It’s been a brutal season in Philadelphia. The Flyers already fired former coach Dave Hakstol on Dec. 17 and replaced him with assistant Scott Gordon. After a post-firing 3-1-1 bump to show signs of life, Philadelphia has cratered again with seven losses in a row, including 3-0 at home to the St. Louis Blues on Monday, and is in last place in the Metropolitan Division. 

The Flyers have used seven goalies this season and had to turn to top prospect Carter Hart, a 20-year-old rookie.

Tonight they don’t even have that option. Backup Mike McKenna likely starts on the second of a back-to-back. The 35-year-old journeyman has literally been on three teams in six days. He was traded by Ottawa to Vancouver on Jan. 2, released by the Canucks on Jan. 4 and picked up by Philadelphia. McKenna just saw the Caps on Dec. 22 in Ottawa. They beat him 4-0 with Copley getting his first career shutout. 

4. Still no power

Not having Backstrom wouldn’t help, but either way the Capitals simply must get their scuffling power play going. They went 0-for-4 in a close 3-2 win at Detroit on Sunday. Very good at even strength, Washington could make its life so much easier by getting the power play going. The Caps are 1-for-31 since Dec. 15 – a span of 10 games. 

MORE CAPITALS NEWS:

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