Aliaksei Protas placed on the second row, Connor McMichael skates with extras in final practice ahead of home opener


The Washington Capitals took to the ice at the MedStar Capitals Iceplex on Tuesday for their final full practice before Wednesday night’s home opener against the Boston Bruins.

In skateboarding, head coach Peter Laviolette set his lines for the first time since the roster was reduced to 23 names.

Notably, Aliaksei Protas skated on the left wing of the second line, and Connor McMichael was among the group of players deemed extra for line rushes. The Athletic’s Tarik El-Bashir reported that McMichael has been joined by Joe Snively and Matt Irwin and they’ll likely be healthy scratches against the Bruins.

McMichael was one of the young players Laviolette challenged to “make some noise” and “win something” during training camp. The 21-year-old forward appears to have clearly lost to Dylan Strome for a spot at center, but he’s happy to have stuck around in the NHL overall.

“It’s always a good feeling”, McMichael said El-Bashir on Sunday. “It’s something I’ve been working on all summer, and obviously all my life to get to this level. This is something I will never take for granted, making a list for opening night. So that’s pretty cool.

Laviolette, who benched the young forward in the past, told the media on Sunday that the battles for regular spots would continue in the regular season.

“Connor is here,” Laviolette said. “He’s going to be competing to be part of this roster and make a difference. We still have some young players here. He’s still young. There will be a battle.

Tuesday’s lineup with Aliaksei Protas in the top six shows the big Belarusian has overtaken McMichael and Joe Snively in the eyes of the coaching staff. He was the only Caps player to appear in all six pre-season competitions.

“He’s been really good, really strong,” Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette said earlier at camp. “You notice his skating. You notice his physique. You notice his work ethic. Right now, he’s shaking things up there.

Protas played 33 games in his first year last season, totaling nine points (3g, 6a). The gigantic and versatile striker worked really hard on his skating and strength over the summer and it paid off.

“I still can’t believe I made it,” Protas said El-Bashir. “I’m so happy now but I have to work even harder to prove that I deserve it.”

The team’s first and fourth lines as well as the defensive duos have remained fairly consistent throughout the preseason. This indicates that Connor Brown is still in line to get the first chance to fill the role of Tom Wilson and likewise, Conor Sheary with the place of Carl Hagelin at the fourth line left wing. Erik Gustafsson also looks likely to start the season as Trevor van Riemsdyk’s partner on the third pair.

On the other hand, the group of six strikers in the middle of the team kept changing. Protas will make his debut this season alongside Strome and Anthony Mantha on the second line. All three players are over six-foot-three and weigh over 200 pounds.

Meanwhile, the third line of Marcus Johansson, Lars Eller and TJ Oshie will also be looking to connect for the first time. The line didn’t split the ice at all five-for-five last season after Johansson was acquired from the Seattle Kraken. Oshie appears healthy after a shoulder injury he suffered in Game 5 of the preseason.

Main photo: Alan Dobbins/MRNB


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