This fall’s training camp schedule has been a bit grueling. The Caps played three games in four nights, and this after having had just two practice sessions before that first game against the Winnipeg Jets in Belleville on Saturday night.
The Caps will host the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks tomorrow night at Verizon Center, a contest that will put them halfway through their eight-game exhibition slate. Beginning on Monday night in Boston, Washington will play four preseason games in six nights to close out this fall’s ledger of tune-up tilts.
Today, the Caps chopped their roster significantly. With the start of AHL Hershey’s 2013-14 training camp just ahead on the horizon, the Capitals trimmed eight players from their camp roster today, leaving the roster at 41. Forwards Nicolas Deschamps, Stanislav Galiev, Peter LeBlanc, Brandon Segal, Matt Watkins and defensemen Chay Genoway and David Kolomatis were reassigned to AHL Hershey and forward Chandler Stephenson was returned to his junior team, the WHL Regina Pats.
Washington is still carrying 23 forwards, 14 defensemen and four goaltenders.
Wednesday’s off day gave us all a chance to catch our breath, and we cobbled together some notes from the two preseason games earlier in the week – Monday vs. the Flyers in Philly and Tuesday vs. the Bruins in Baltimore. Here they are, sort of a combined postgame notebook for both games.
Middle Man – Monday night’s 4-3 shootout win over the Flyers in Philadelphia marked the first night of coach Adam Oates’ experiment with veteran right wing Eric Fehr as a center-ice man. Fehr had two secondary assists, won seven of 13 draws, had four shots on net and logged 18:48 in ice time.
“Some good and some bad,” was Fehr’s quick assessment of his first game as a center. “I was happy with the way I was in the face-off circle, but getting into the zone and trying not to jump in before all the [defense] are in there and just trying to get everything sorted out down there, I had a little trouble. But I think that will come.”
In eight career NHL seasons, Fehr has taken a grand total of 22 face-offs in regular season action, winning just four of those. He won five of six draws in the first two periods of Monday’s game.
Perhaps the best play Fehr made in the game came in overtime, a sublime setup from the left half-wall that gave defenseman John Carlson a strong chance to win the game, but the blueliner’s wrister went high over the net.
“I made a couple plays and now I’m just not happy that I don’t get enough shots on goal and creating chances the other way,” said Fehr. “You can’t have it all, I guess. I felt better making plays, but it’s just tougher trying to get into the zone. You’re the last guy in and trying to contribute on that end. It’s definitely going to take and adjustment, but I thought it went okay for the first time.”
Caps coach Adam Oates understands that Fehr has a lot to chew on right now, so he’s not spending much time talking with his new center project after shifts. Not yet, anyway.
“Not so much tonight,” said Oates after the Philly game. “I want him to get a few games before we even think about that. It’s an experiment. I want him to play hockey. He’s got to get in shape too; he’s got to get through this preseason and get his minutes. I don’t want him to even think about it yet. We talk about it as we move along.”
First Impression – Andre Burakovsky was the Caps’ first-round draft choice (23rd overall) in the 2013 NHL Draft, and he made his NHL preseason debut on Monday in Philly. The City of Brotherly Shove can be a tough place for an 18-year-old, but you wouldn’t have known it by watching Burakovsky. He made it look like it was just another game; there were no signs of nerves or anxiousness at all.
“I thought he played great,” said Oates of Burakovsky. “I really did. Tough environment, hostile environment, as we know. I thought he looked very good tonight. He went and got pucks. He was elusive. I was impressed tonight.”
Burakovsky was plus-1 with two shots on net in 14:31 of ice time on Monday. The home folks will get their first look at him on Friday in the Caps’ preseason home opener against Chicago.
Net Gain – The Caps signed goaltender David Leggio to a free agent deal over the summer, and the 29-year-old Williamsville, NY native saw his first action in a Caps sweater on Monday against the Flyers.
Leggio came on in relief of starter Michal Neuvirth midway through the second period on Monday. Although he surrendered all three Philly goals in the game, Leggio played well and couldn’t be faulted on any of the tallies.
“Obviously we got the win, so that’s great,” said Leggio after the game. “There is definitely room for improvement for myself. I think I could have had one or two of them. But it was my first preseason game and I got to get my feet wet. I felt pretty good. It was exciting. All in all, I felt pretty good.”
Leggio was under siege for much of the third period. The Caps took a handful of penalties and Washington did not have a shot on goal for a span of nearly 18 minutes, a span that started late in the second period.
“We had some penalty trouble,” noted Leggio. “There are games like that where sometimes you have spurts where you have to just help keep the team in it. Our PK was exceptional; we really didn’t give them too many Grade A chances on the PK. I think we probably killed six or eight minutes in the third period, so a lot of resiliency out of this group to stay with it throughout the course of the game. We get a late goal – which was huge for us – and it gave us a chance in overtime and the shootout.”
Leggio stopped all four shots he faced in the shootout.
“I just try to stay patient and I try to take away their space,” he explained of his shootout strategy, “take away the shot first and make them deke. Hopefully they get it in tight where they can’t roof it. So that’s all I try to do, force them into beating me up top or make a good move. That’s it.”
Tough Trials – The forwards who played the Caps’ preseason opener on Saturday in Belleville against Winnipeg did so on an Olympic-sized ice sheet, 15 feet wider than regulation NHL ice. That same group of forwards played on Tuesday against the Bruins in Baltimore, in a rink that doesn’t quite measure up to typical NHL standards in many regards.
The adverse conditions didn’t stop a few of those forwards from impressing in those games.
Camp invitee Nathan Walker continued his impressive camp, getting credit for the primary assist on the game’s first goal for the second time in as many games and also earning a penalty shot opportunity in the second period.
Wilson also turned in a second straight strong performance, converting Walker’s feed to give the Caps a 1-0 lead and adding a strong physical presence against the Bruins, a team that consistently finishes its checks regardless of who’s occupying its sweaters.
Walker forced a turnover just as Wilson was about to head off on a change. Instead, the two teenagers combined to light the lamp.
“I just slashed across and I thought [the Boston puck carrier] put it off the window,” explained Wilson. “I was ready to go to the bench. I guess Walks made a good play at the blueline. I juts turned and put my stick on the ice and he hit me with a great pass.”
Center Casey Wellman also turned in a second straight solid performance for Washington. Acquired from Florida last Jan. 31 in a swap that sent minor league pivot Zach Hamill to the Panthers, Wellman has 41 games worth of NHL experience to his credit, but has yet to play for Washington during the regular season. He earned a brief call-up last season but did not get into a game with the parent club.
Wellman has good speed and has showcased his versatility, too. In addition to scoring a goal on Tuesday, he’s been very effective on the penalty kill in his two preseason games to date. Wellman blocked a shot with his right foot while the Caps were down a man early in Tuesday’s game, but didn’t miss a shift. He had a bag of ice taped to his lower right leg as he talked to the media after the game.
Unable to make an impression in the NHL last season, Wellman seems bent on doing so this time around.
“I definitely tried to,” said Wellman after Tuesday’s game. “Like you said, I was new [last season] and unfortunately I didn’t get into those [NHL] games last year so I’m trying to show what I can do. I think I put out a good effort the last two games.
“I’m just trying to play my game, be fast and quick and get pucks to the net. I think I’ve been able to do that the last couple of games.”
The 25-year-old Wellman had nine goals and 30 points in 33 games with the Bears last season, and he added three goals in five playoff contests.
Brooks Was Here – A week after he left the ice with a hip flexor injury sustained in the Caps’ first camp practice of 2013, Caps forward Brooks Laich was back on the ice and in full swing at Thursday’s practice.
“It felt really good,” said Laich. “I didn’t take a lot of contact today, so that’s the next step. But as far as skating, if there’s no inhibition the strength is there and the explosion is there and it’s going to develop even more. But as long as there is no inhibition, then you feel really good.”
Laich won’t play in Friday’s preseason home opener against the Blackhawks. Both and and linemate Mikhail Grabovski are slated to get their first action of the 2013 preseason on Monday night when the Caps travel to Boston for a return engagement with the Bruins.