After two preseason tilts on the road, both of which were Capitals victories, Washington came home and finally played in front of their fans at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night for the first time since their game seven playoff loss to Montreal late last April, and knocked off the Boston Bruins, 3-2. Mathieu Perreault, Alexander Semin, and Cody Eakin scored for the Caps and Michal Neuvirth stopped 20 of 22 shots to get the win in goal. The Caps are now 3-0 in preseason and will travel to Beantown on Wednesday to take on the Bruins again.
Alexander Oveckhin notched two assists and also nearly had his head taken off at the end of the contest by Gregory Campbell (yes, the son of NHL Director of Operations, Colin Campbell) in 17 minutes of action. Afterwards here is what the Great #8 had to say about his first contest of the preseason (quotes courtesy of Caps outstanding Communications/Media Relations team).
“A physical game is always nice, just to get into it right away. They played pretty well. They were definitely more physical than us. First couple of shifts, you get into the game and say, ‘Okay, let’s try and play hockey.’ It helps to get back on the ice and get into the physical part of the game. In scrimmages we don’t get hit a lot. Now, it’s time to get into it.” said the 2010 NHL MVP, as voted by the players (Ted Lindsay award).
The incident, which generated a few comments on twitter, was addressed by Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau following the contest.
“Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, he makes us nervous, but it was his first game. He was getting his feet wet and he didn’t play anywhere near the way he can play. But the check at the end made us nervous. Ovi [Ovechkin] is the leader and he plays the way he does, but when [Gregory] Campbell hit him, if he doesn’t duck his head, he could have been seriously hurt. So, I don’t blame him for going back at him,” said the three time Southeast Division winning bench boss on Alexander the Great.
One thing Caps fans can be sure of this year is that the highly skilled roster put together by GM George McPhee will have some on ice protection this season, unlike in 2009-10 when the Capitals did not have “an enforcer” in the lineup on a nightly basis. DJ King, who was acquired from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for minor leaguer Stefan Della-Rovere this summer, dropped the mitts and fought fellow heavyweight, Shawn Thornton, of Boston in the first period.
“I had told him earlier on, you don’t have to fight in training camp and stuff, but I think he wanted to show his new teammates and the fans that he is not bad at his craft. I am not sure it [sparked momentum], but it made the guys feel better on the bench. Like they had a big brother out there. I am sure, because that’s the feeling I got. We never really had that tough, physical presence last year, and he played pretty well too,” said Boudreau on an added dimension to the 2010-11 Capitals squad.
Clearly Boudreau thinks that King’s presence will make a difference this year. It will be hard to top the regular season the Caps had in 2009-10 from a total points perspective, but let’s face it, they are going to easily win the Southeast Division for the 4th time barring some major injuries. So perhaps the presence of King will prevent a situation like the mugging Ovechkin took from Columbus last fall or deter an opposing forward from taking a swipe at another Washington top player. After all, two time Norris Trophy finalist Mike Green did have to go into the playoffs with a bad wrist that supposedly came from an errant slash. I’ve always been a proponent of having some muscle in your lineup to protect your top players and the acquisition of the former Blue makes enormous sense to me and could help curb some unnecessary wear and tear on guys like the Great #8, Green, Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, etc.
Both combatants were asked after the contest about their bout.
“He asked. I think they traded for him for that role and I’m sure he wanted to make a statement. We’re not going to get pushed around either. So [it was] just two guys doing their jobs. No real other reason. I respect him. I’ve fought him a few times before and he has respect for me. I thought it was a good fight,” said Thornton on the decision to fight King.
“It’s nice to get the first one out of the way. It wasn’t midseason form, that’s for sure,” added King, whose biggest challenge this season will be remaining healthy (only played 22 games between the NHL and AHL last season primarily due to a broken finger).
The biggest focus in preseason appears to the battle for the 2nd and 3rd line center roster spots with a couple of kids (Marcus Johansson and Eakin) trying to show they belong. Boudreau, after the victory, was not showing his cards at this point.
“They are playing pretty well. Every game they are doing something to [make me] sit there at night and go ‘they should stay, they should go, they should stay, they should go.’ I know the future looks bright at the center spot, when you add Nicky [Nicklas Backstrom] in there. So, I don’t know. We got another week to make a decision, I would think,” finished the 2008 Jack Adams Award Winner (NHL Coach of the Year).
My money is on Tomas Fleischmann to start out as the #2 pivot behind Backstrom while Perreault gets the nod at #3. But one or two or three years down the road things could look much different from a roster/lineup perspective, as Boudreau alluded to in his post game comments above. Washington has gotten very good play up the middle this preseason from both 2009 1st round choice, Johansson, and 2009 3rd round selection, Eakin. In addition, 2010 1st round draft choice, Evgeny Kuznetsov, who was my number one star of the Capitals July Development Camp, is playing in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) this season in Russia. Johansson and Eakin are both only 19 while Kuznetsov is just 18, so rushing them to the NHL does not make sense since their bodies still need to mature physically, not to mention there are contractual issues to consider. Putting Johansson or Eakin in the NHL this year before they are fully ready could not only hurt their confidence and development, but it would also put them closer to arbitration (they would reach it one year earlier).
If past form holds, McPhee will have Eakin back in the Western Hockey League (he is not eligible to play in Hershey until his junior team completes its’ season) and Johansson either in Sweden or Chocolatetown. However, it has still been lots of fun to watch how these skilled young players compete and battle despite their physical disadvantage. The fact that Washington has Johansson, Eakin, and Kuznetsov as young centers in the system seems to be three major reasons why the Washington GM did not dip into the free agent center pool in the summer of 2010.
One final thought, glancing at the Bruins roster for Tuesday night’s game quickly brings to mind a couple of Paul Newman classic movie lines. The first, from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, “Who are those guys?” and the second, from Reg Dunlop in Slap Shot, after he reads the names of the players Joe McGrath has just traded for (which, of course, were the Hanson’s), “Who are these guys? I’ve never even heard of them?” But, a win is a win so I am sure Boudreau, Ovechkin, and the rest of the Caps will take it. Plus noone appeared to suffer a serious injury, and that is always important in September.
Notes: Semin, who notched the 2nd Caps goal, now has a goal and three assists in just two preseason contests…After Wednesday night’s game in Boston, the Caps will play preseason game number five at home on Friday night against Columbus…The Hershey Bears opened their training camp on Tuesday morning…Saturday, October 2nd is the Caps Convention in downtown DC and WNST will have a booth at the event (also check out our Puck Busses which are now on sale at WNST.NET, including a New Years Eve trek to the Winter Classic in my least favorite town in the country, Pittsburgh)…btw, our good friends over at Japers Rink are having a Caps Convention after party.