Yes, it is only preseason, but thank goodness hockey is back!
Just over four months ago the Washington Capitals season came to a crushing halt in overtime against the New York Rangers, a series the Caps could have easily won. During the summer, Capitals 2nd year GM, Brian MacLellan, talked the talk and then walked the walk once again, upgrading his top six forwards like he stated he would by inking former Kings forward Justin Williams to a free agent contract and then trading Troy Brouwer, a 2nd round pick, and minor league goalie Phoenix Copley to St. Louis to acquire Team USA Olympic hero, TJ Oshie.
Needless to say expectations are high around here for the 2015-16 Capitals season, as they should be.
The Caps are in the second year of the Barry Trotz era and MacLellan has done his best to give the coach one of, if not the strongest roster in Capitals history.
The only downer of the off season have been the surgeries to first line center, Nicklas Backstrom (hip), and top left handed defensemen, Brooks Orpik (wrist). Orpik should be back by the start of the regular season on October 10th, while Backstrom is slated to return some time in the first 10 regular season games.
But the hockey season is a long, grueling marathon so it is best that these two take their time to get right because the Capitals Stanley Cup aspirations are linked to both of them, as well as the overall health of the team.
Simply put, on paper this roster looks extremely strong and the coaching staff is excellent.
So with that background, the Caps opened training camp on Thursday and on Monday night they took on the Carolina Hurricanes at the Verizon Center in preseason tilt number one of seven. Needless to say the opening period was anything but beautiful, as expected. The team looked sloppy and out of sync. The good news is $30+M man Braden Holtby was excellent in the cage thwarting all 11 shots he faced.
In the middle frame, the Capitals started to click and they fired 13 biscuits on Canes goalie Eddie Lack in the first 10 minutes. But Lack would stop all 22 shots he’d face in the opening two periods. Holtby could’ve spent the first 10 minutes of period two on twitter, since he only faced three shots and he exited just after the game’s midway point. Dan Ellis came on in relief and was a perfect 12 for 12, with a couple of dandy saves.
Overall, the Capitals really dominated the last 40 minutes and they finally broke through with two goals in period three. Tom Wilson, who is slated to play a bigger role this year, snapped a sweet shot by Drew Macintyre for the game winner and then rookie Stan Galiev (2010 3rd round pick) forced the Carolina defense into a turnover and Derek Roy, who MacLellan recently convinced to come to camp on a free agent tryout, scored to add the icing on the cake. Roy, who played the majority of his career as a top 6 six forward on the Buffalo Sabres, is 32, but looked very good. He had several quality scoring chances in 18:12 of ice time. It seems that if the Caps and Roy can agree on contract terms, there is a very good chance he’ll be wearing a Caps sweater on opening night against the New Jersey Devils. Roy can play center or wing and kills penalties, so he looks to be a nice fit and yet another shrewd move by MacLellan.
Alex Ovechkin had six shots on goal playing on a line with Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov. After the opening period of rust was worked out, that line performed well. Roy was with Galiev and 2014 first round pick, Jakub Vrana. All three had strong performances. Brooks Laich centered Wilson and Jason Chimera and they also carried the play when they were on the ice. Riley Barber, Carter Camper, and Sean Collins comprised the fourth line. On defense, Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner were the top pairing and excelled. Dmitry Orlov had a nice first game back from a year plus wrist injury and played well. His defensive partner, Connor Carrick struggled though, taking three penalties. The third pair of Christian Djoos and Aaron Ness were a pleasant surprise. Djoos had an assist and was on the ice for both Capitals goals.
With the NHL moving to three on three overtime this season in an attempt to reduce the number of shootouts, each team will have three preseason contests in which, regardless of the final score, they try out the new format. The Caps and Canes did just that. Boy, was it fun to watch, despite the fact that Carolina scored on an odd man rush just 57 seconds into overtime to end the night. Kuznetsov had a two on one with Ovechkin and when his rocket of a shot missed the net, the Hurricanes went the other way and tic-tac-toe’d it into the net past Ellis.
In summary, it was a good night for the Caps to be on the ice. They were victorious, 2-0. On Tuesday, they face the Boston Bruins on the road and according to excellent Caps reporter, Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps), there will be a fresh lineup playing in Beantown. So Williams will likely be making his Caps debut. The game is not televised and neither is Thursday’s tilt with the Montreal Canadiens at the Molson Centre.