- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 14, 2018

As Game 1 slipped away, the Washington Capitals felt center Jay Beagle’s absence in Thursday’s 4-3 overtime loss.

The Columbus Blue Jackets won 10 of the 11 defensive zone faceoffs in the third period, resulting in two goals. Those draws usually go to Beagle, who finished with the fourth-best face-off percentage this season. The fourth-line center has missed the last four games, dating back to the regular season, with an upper-body injury.

But the Capitals got good news Saturday, with Beagle returning to practice. Beagle said he’s “hopeful” to play in Game 2 on Sunday.

Defenseman Michal Kempny, who exited Game 1 in the first period with an injury, is also expected to play. 

“I’m preparing like I’m going to play,” Beagle said. “I’ll leave it up to the coaching staff and the doctors and the medical staff to make the final call.”

Beagle was hurt April 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, leaving the game in the first period. He started skating on his own last week, but wore his normal practice jersey Saturday, which meant he was able to take full-contact.

Coach Barry Trotz called Beagle “one of those guys that you don’t probably value him as much until you don’t have him,” adding fans don’t appreciate him as much as coaches do.

“He gives you everything he’s got, and the one place he can make a difference is that faceoff circle,” Trotz said of Beagle. “It’s all about starting with the puck, and he gives us an advantage in that more than most guys in the league.”

In Game 1, Devante Smith-Pelly was the only Capitals‘ forward to have won a defensive zone draw in the third period. Granted, Columbus’ wins on the face-off came on the power play, but Washington missed Beagle in that regard. Beagle is one of the team’s top penalty killers.

Beagle won 58.5 percent of faceoffs this season. He said he takes pride in his ability to win draws, specifically from the right-hand side.

Since Beagle’s injury, the Capitals have struggled to fill his role.

“To ask guys to go out and take draws they haven’t taken all year is tough, especially against [Columbus],” Beagle said. “They’ve got three really good lefties that are strong in the offensive zone and great drawmen. … They’ve got a lot of guys that they can utilize. It’s definitely a part of my game and I want to make sure I can take those draws.”

The Capitals didn’t skate Friday, giving Beagle more time to heal. He acknowledged there’s an “urgency” to hurry back since the Capitals are now in the postseason, though cautioned he has to make sure he’s not hindering his teammates by playing for the sake of playing.

Even on the off day, Beagle went into the Capitals‘ facility to continue his rehab.

“There are no off days when you’re hurt,” Beagle said.

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