Craig Smith to make Capitals debut against Rangers, Marcus Johansson out with illness

The Washington Capitals and New York Rangers are set to face off in a morning game on Saturday and there will be a new face in the Caps roster.

Craig Smith, part of the Boston Bruins’ return to trade that sent Dmitry Orlov and Garnet Hathaway to the North, will make his Capitals debut as the team looks to avoid seven straight losses. Head coach Peter Laviolette said Friday the plan is for Smith to line up on the right wing.

Smith, 33, has 10 points (4g, 6a) in 42 games with the Bruins this season. One of those assists came in Boston’s 3-1 win over the Rangers in mid-January.

Smith has a long history with Laviolette since they were both with the Nashville Predators. He lined up for Lavy in games over six seasons from 2014-15 to 2019-20.

“He’s a guy who can score goals,” Laviolette said before the game. “He has five 20-goal seasons. He is able to put the puck in the net. He’s a worker. He has speed, he is competitive. Played on the power play. We’ll see how it goes. I think the fact that he arrived late last night and just got some systems info probably makes it easier for him today and see where it goes from there.

“We’ve changed things up a bit since the last time we worked together,” he added when asked about the two’s shared past. “Even if you haven’t played a system, you’ve probably played against it. So you have an understanding of what it is and then you work out the details. I think the most important thing is to just go out there and bring energy and rhythm to the game and look to create if he can.

The team also announced hours before puck drop that Marcus Johansson will not be in training due to a non-COVID illness. This will be the first missed game of the season for Johansson. That leaves only Conor Sheary, Nick Jensen and Trevor van Riemsdyk as the only players to consider every game this season if they aren’t a late scratch.

Johansson was skating on a third line with Nicklas Backstrom and Conor Sheary. Smith could fill in there as Sheary turns to his more natural left wing.

The Caps will also return to Darcy Kuemper in net after Charlie Lindgren suffered a 4-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday. Kuemper’s last outing saw him stop 22 of 25 shots against the Detroit Red Wings in a 3-1 loss on Tuesday.

In five starts in February, Kuemper is 1-4 with a 3.07 goals-against average and .901 save percentage. At five-to-five as a team in February, the Caps rank only 28th in the league in save percentage (.895).

The Rangers will arrive in DC with 75 points in the standings and sitting comfortably third in the Metropolitan Division. They will be looking to break their own losing streak as they have lost their last three.

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