Recap: Capitals vs Blues (10/3/2016)

Photo: Nick Wass – AP

Caps returned to preseason action Monday night against the St Louis Blues. For the first time in the preseason some big names hit the ice after returning from the World Cup; among them were Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Dmitry Orlov.

With new players came new positions. Impressive prospect Zach Sanford, a natural center, played wing to Lars Eller. Also, Orlov was paired with John Carlson, which isn’t new, they have played some time together, but this time it seems to look like something that might stick come regular season.

The Caps came out flying in the first period, they had a 7-0 shot lead in the first 7 minutes. Ovechkin was noticeably excited to be on the ice. First thing he did with the puck was turn too fast into the boards, nearly leveling himself, but he turned around to get a slap shot off but was denied by Carter Hutton. Ovechkin ended up with 17 (!!!) shot attempts and 10 ended up on net.

Ovechkin’s line was looking dangerous with Backstrom and Oshie, but it was the Sanford-Eller-Burakovsky line that really impressed. They had two prime scoring chances in the first period alone. First, Sanford was fore-checking hard enough behind the net that the Blues defensemen turned it over in front of the net where Eller had a few whacks at it before it got loose and Burakovsky picked it up and ripped it from in close before Hutton absolutely robbed him with the glove.

The second time, Sanford was going down the boards using his great strength to fight off an opponent to fed it to Burakovsky to the net where he had a short break away but lifted the puck over the pipe. A third chance happened in the 3rd period when Sanford back-handed a pass through the slot to Eller who was robbed by the pad of Hutton.

Something very noticeable about Eller in these preseason games is how much he likes to shoot, which is a welcoming aspect for a center on the Caps. Backstrom and Kuznetsov are elite centers but something they lack is shooting the puck enough, so it’s good to see a center willing to let the puck fly. He should get past his 13 goal mark from last season with good wingers like Johansson and Williams.

Though the Caps were controlling the play and putting on the pressure in the first it was the Blues who struck first on the power play after Nathan Walker took a bad cross checking penalty. Dmitrij Jaskin used his impressive hands to whack a puck out of the air from Holtby’s glove and tuck it in on the back hand. The Caps ended the first period up on shots 12-8, though the Blues did have the final 6 shots on net for the period.

Holtby still looked a little rusty, especially with the stick handling but that smoothed out as the game went on. Some of his rebound control was suspect but he also made a couple of great saves, most noticeably a glove save on a power play deflection by the Blues in the 2nd period. He was pulled a little after halfway through the game, stopping 13 of 14 shots, with the only goal coming on the power play. Grubauer took over after that and only faced ONE shot in about 16 minutes, but it was a fantastic one to keep the Blues from going up 2-0. He ended up facing a total of 7 shots in about 33 minutes of time, including overtime, and stopped all of them. He was 3 for 4 in the shootout.

The Caps finally dented the twine 1:50 into the 3rd period from their 4th line of Carey-Sill-Walker. A backhand from Sill was eventually tipped by Carey past Hutton for a dirty goal. Exactly the type of goal you expect from your 4th line.

After 60 minutes there was no winner, though the Caps put up the most scoring chances. 3v3 overtime was exciting as usual. The Capitals owned the puck but couldn’t bury, even with a Schmidt break away. Grubauer did face one good chance but shut it down with great positioning. On to the ever exciting pre-season shootout! The Caps buried 2 of the 4 chances for the win.

But it shouldn’t have even gone to overtime. Caps could have easily won 4 or 5 to 1 or 2, but Hutton was stellar and had numerous great saves. Hutton was 37/38 and Holtby and Grubauer split for 20/21.

Over all the Caps looked very quick, which is a good sign considering that’s how they were beat in the playoffs. Defensemen were pinching and jumping up in plays. There were a few issues with dzone exits, but better and cleaner over all. I would still like to see more odd man rushes from such a skilled team as the Caps, but it isn’t their full team so too early to complain about that. It was a great game by the Caps, but it means nothing.

By Luke Adomanis

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