Washington heads up to Boston on Monday to start the back nine of its training camp and the back nine of its 2013-14 exhibition season. After winning their first two tune-up tilts via the shootout route, the Caps have lost their last two games in the same fashion, leaving them with a 2-0-2 mark as they head into what will be a busy final week of camp.
The Caps’ most recent exhibition game was Friday’s 5-4 shootout loss to the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks at Verizon Center. Chicago led that game by a 4-2 count late in the second period, but the Caps rebounded on a late second-period goal from Eric Fehr and Alex OVechkin’s tying power play tally in the third period.
Washington killed off a Chicago power play late in the third to preserve the tie, only to fall in the skills competition.
Monday’s game in Boston marks the first game in a Caps’ sweater for center Mikhail Grabovski. The Caps inked the unrestricted free agent pivot to a one-year deal in August, but visa woes prevented him from arriving for the start of training camp on Sept. 12. He has been practicing with his new linemates Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer, and that threesome will skate together for the first time on Monday against the Bruins.
The game also marks Laich’s first action of the preseason; he was sidelined for a week with a hip flexor ailment sustained on the first day of camp.
Aside from the experienced Grabovski line and a few other vets sprinkled throughout the lineup, the Caps are bringing a decidedly youthful bunch with them to Boston for their preseason rematch against the Bruins.
The Bruins downed the Caps last Tuesday in Charm City, eking out a 3-2 shootout decision in the Baltimore Hockey Classic at Baltimore Arena.
The six defensemen slated to travel to Boston on Monday have a combined total of 373 career NHL games among them. Four of Washington’s six defensemen on the trip have yet to skate in a regular season NHL contest.
“It’s preseason so the coaches and the GM are having a good look at some of the young guys,” says Brouwer. “Sometimes when you’re comfortable at home, it doesn’t really show exactly what you can do so with the defensemen I think they’re trying to put them in a hostile building, hostile environment against a good team and see how they do and try to gauge them that way.”
Washington’s young blueline corps should expect a stern test from the defending Eastern Conference champion Bruins, who are 3-1 during the preseason to date. Boston figures to ice a much more seasoned and experienced lineup than the one it brought to Baltimore for last Tuesday’s game between the two teams.
After playing with rookies Nathan Walker and Chandler Stephenson in each of his first two preseason games, Brouwer is looking forward to skating with his new linemates. But he knows they’ll need to rely on the Caps’ youthful defense corps to get the puck out of the Washington end cleanly and efficiently to enable he, Laich and Grabovski to start the process of establishing some chemistry together.
“For us,” begins Brouwer, “we need the puck to try to get our chemistry, try to get our touches and to get that familiarity on our lines so that we can go into the regular season and be comfortable with each other and not be in that transition/learning phase. We’re expecting [the defense] to move the puck up like they always try to do, and we’ll try to create some cycles in their end where we can continue to work off each other and get better and progress.”