Friday night marked Washington’s first home preseason contest in preparation for the 2013-14 season, and it also puts the Caps halfway through their eight-game exhibition slate. The Capitals hosted the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks on Friday at Verizon Center and for the fourth time in as many tune-up tilts, this one went to a shootout.
Chicago won it, 5-4.
Caps coach Adam Oates noted that despite the loss, there was a lot to be pleased about in Friday’s game from a Washington perspective.
“There were a lot of positives about this game,” says Oates. “Obviously we want to win, but so many good things happened. There’s a lot of positive reinforcement tomorrow at practice – video, all the little things we can teach. Tonight, [assistant coach] Calle [Johansson] and I were talking late in the game on the bench, that there were so many good things that we can talk about.”
The Caps’ best players were their best players. The team’s top line of Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin played their best of the three games they’ve skated in to date. Backstrom and Ovechkin both scored, with Ovechkin’s tally coming on the power play. Johansson had two assists, both of them quite artful.
Eric Fehr’s line (with Jason Chimera and Joel Ward) was also effective throughout, and Caps defensemen Karl Alzner and John Carlson were both very good.
Veteran blueliner John Erskine, still working himself into shape after offseason knee surgery, logged 22:35 and registered a team-high six hits and also blocked four shots.
On the prospect side of the coin, recent draftees Tom Wilson, Connor Carrick and Andre Burakovsky all showed themselves well in what was the first preseason game for each player at Verizon Center.
Neither the Caps nor the Hawks had a power play until the third period, and Washington ended up scoring the tying goal on its lone man-advantage opportunity of the night, and an abbreviated one at that. Shortly afterwards, the Caps kept the game even with a stellar penalty-killing effort that involved several different players.
Chimera, Ward, Fehr, Wilson, Ryan Stoa and Jeff Taffe combined with Alzner, Carlson, Erskine and Tomas Kundratek to successfully snuff out Chicago’s only full two-minute power play of the night.
“I thought we knocked off a little bit of therust last game,” says Fehr. “As a team, we played a little bit better today. We made some better plays, and you could see we were starting to create some things and see some openings that our timing just wouldn’t allow the first couple of games. I thought as a group we played a lot better, especially in the offensive end.”
Center of Attention – Friday’s game marked the second game of Oates’ experiment with Fehr as a center. Fehr won half of his 14 draws on the night, logged 19:31 in ice time and scored a pretty goal that finished off a pair of sharp passes from Ward and then Chimera.
“It felt a little bit better today,” says Fehr. “I thought I was able to join the rush a little bit and get a little bit more involved.”
Fehr’s goal came off the rush; he now has three points (one goal, two assists) in the preseason.
’13 First Picks – Burakovsky, the Caps’ first choice (23rd overall) in the 2013 NHL Draft, played in his first game at Verizon Center on Friday against the Hawks. He assisted on a Wilson goal and had one shot on net in 13:56 worth of ice time.
Chicago’s own first-rounder in the 2013 draft was also on the ice in the Friday contest. Ryan Hartman went to the Hawks with the 30th overall pick in 2013. A teammate of Caps prospects Wilson and Carrick with the OHL Plymouth Whalers, Hartman celebrated his 19th birthday on Friday by playing his second game in as many nights for the Hawks. The native of Hilton Head, SC contributed an assist to the Chicago cause, his second helper in as many nights.
Wilson relished the opportunity to play against his Whalers’ teammate.
“He gave me a couple of whacks out there,” says Wilson of Hartman. “He’s an agitator. I love him to death; one of my best buddies. But not fun t play against. I think he played pretty well tonight.”
Teenage Kicks – Nineteen-year-old Wilson scored the Caps’ second goal of the game and his second of the preseason on Friday against the Hawks. Eighteen-year-old Burakovsky corralled a loose puck behind the Chicago cage and fed Wilson, who was stationed down low to the left of the net. Wilson chipped it into the cage, somehow jimmying the puck in where it looked like little to no shooting room existed.
“Every time you get exposed to this level,” begins Wilson, “whether it’s an exhibition, whether it’s a game or whether it’s practice, you are always learning a little more and getting more experience.”
Midway through the second period, Wilson fought Hawks left wing Kyle Beach. The Caps’ rookie felt the Hawks winger came in a little low on him on a hit in front of the benches.
“There was a puck and we were kind of racing to it,” explains Wilson. “I was expecting a shoulder-on-shoulder hit and then he got low and kind of aimed towards my knees or lower body. I don’t think that’s necessary at that point to do that. He had asked me first when I got out in front of him if I wanted to go, so I just kind of defended myself.”
Make It Stop – For the fourth time in as many preseason tilts, the Caps and their foe went to a shootout. Even the team’s alumni game on Thursday night required a shootout to settle the score.
Last season, Washington was the last NHL team to have a shootout game and it only had three shootouts over the course of its truncated 48-game schedule.