The 1st period started with an unintended wrinkle and Dan Ellis in net for the first 35–36 seconds of the period. Braden Holtby, apparently the victim of equipment problems, took over from there. Overall the play was high energy but stop and go, with little flow as might be expected of the first game out. Neither team was able to sustain much offense though Carolina did manage 11 shots on the Caps net. Tom Wilson let it be known early that while we can expect him to up the offensive side of his game this season, he’ll still be hitting everything like always and pre-season doesn’t matter. Anytime and anywhere.
Unlike the first period, the second began with a long stretch of the Capitals dictating play. Jakub Vrana had the first grade A chance of the game for either team taking a pass from Galiev to the front of the net. Eddie Lack made a nice toe save as Vrana failed to get the puck up and into the open net. For the first 12 plus minutes of the period the Capitals dominated play, spending most of their time in the offensive zone. Carolina had some pushback over the next 3–4 minutes but the Capitals resumed their push and Jason Chimera had a nice breakaway while playing shorthanded. Chimera was unable to bury the chance but did let it be known that he’s still one of the fastest skaters in the NHL and a real threat shorthanded.
Tom Wilson opened the scoring at 3:31 of the 3rd period with a nice shot from the high slot, high to the blocker side. Minutes later Alex Ovechkin had an excellent chance on a breakaway after blocking a shot to create the chance himself. Dan Macintyre, in net for Carolina, came up with the big save on Ovechkin to keep it a 1–0 game. Ovechkin continued the offensive thrust with a high glove side shot on Macintyre off a nice feed from Kuznetsov on his next shift. Later in the period Derek Roy buried his best chance of the night at 13:11, with a shot that got through the Carolina goalie and trickled over the line for a 2–0 Caps lead. That would prove to be more than enough as Dan Ellis and Holtby combined for the 2–0 shutout.
As one of three pre season games scheduled to go to overtime regardless of the score, we knew we’d be getting our first look at the new 3 on 3 format. It only took 57 seconds of high speed hockey to produce a 3 on 1 in Carolina’s favor, and end the experiment for the night. Kuznetsov made a great play to create a 2 on 1 in the Caps favor alongside Ovechkin, but missed the net on his shot creating a big rebound off the back glass and a 3 on 1 Carolina break the other way. Dan Ellis had no chance as Carolina played tack, tack, toe and finished the play and OT high to the glove side.
While it’s hard to read much from the very first game of pre season there were a few things worth noting.
First, Derek Roy intends on making the team. If he continues to play the way he did in this first game, he will. Roy not only put himself on the scoresheet but clearly Vrana and Galiev benefited from playing with him. They were the best line on the ice for either team. Vrana and Galiev likewise will make some decisions difficult if they play like this every time out.
Second, we knew face-offs would need some work given the new pieces and the pieces lost in the offseason, and one game in, that definitely seems to be the case. While the new face-off rules clearly did prove an advantage to the team on offense, the Capitals had their face-off problems everywhere on the ice. With Backstrom not playing, the bulk of the face-offs fell to Kuznetsov and the early returns weren’t great. 33% overall for the night and 0–6 in the offensive zone won’t be good enough when the games count. With Brooks Laich having the best percentage for the Caps at just 44%, there’s a lot of work to be done there.
Dmitry Orlov looked very good after over a year off the ice. Holtby played well but wasn’t really tested. Likewise Dan Ellis played well with only a few quality scoring chances to really test him.
Coach Trotz noted that he’ll be experimenting with the lines for the first 3 pre season games and then locking things down in the final 4. While the first line looked like a good possibility for opening night, the Vrana, Roy, Galiev line was excellent but unlikely to make it past pre season.
No one began to play themselves out of a job in this game and a few started to make a solid case that they should be on the ice at Verizon Center opening night. The roster locks mostly got their time in with Kuznetsov in particular having an excellent night everywhere except the face-off circle. Ovechkin and Oshie had their moments as well. Even with the qualifier that it’s the first game, it’s hard to criticize a lot. The penalty kill is a bit of a work in progress but that was to be expected.
Overall, a solid A for a first outing!
By Ernie Mudd