Capitals defeat Blues 4-3, End Preseason on High Note

bluesThe Capitals’ preseason wrapped up this afternoon with a 4-3 win against the Blues at Scottrade Arena in St. Louis this afternoon. 

Heading into today’s game, the Capitals were 1-5 in the preseason, and they were looking to end a four-game slide against the St. Louis Blues, who downed the Caps 4-0 at Capital One Arena on September 22. The Blues entered the game with several injuries, including Robby Fabbri, who will miss the whole season with recovering knee surgery, former Cap Zach Sanford, Alex Steen, and Jay Bouwmeester. The Capitals dressed a lot of the lineup they will dress on Thursday when they visit the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Center. The Capitals headed into today’s game having scored only eight goals in their first six games.

Race for the Final Roster Spots

The NHL deadline for final roster cuts is Tuesday at 5:00 p.m.  Coach Barry Trotz has said that he hopes to have an Opening Night roster of 22 players rather than 23, saying it’s more important for players to get time on ice in Hershey than to sit in the press box and watch the game. That logic may change with the potential for a Tom Wilson suspension after he received a game misconduct for a boarding call.

On offense, Alex Chiasson, Tyler Graovac, Anthony Peluso, Devante Smith-Pelly, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, and Nathan Walker are jockeying for just four spots among the forward corps.  Vrana appears to be a lock, Graovac has looked impressive, and Walker has drawn strong praise from Barry Trotz. That leaves one spot, which is likely to come down to Chiasson, who is on a PTO, and Smith-Pelly, who signed a two-way contract with the Caps this summer. Both have played well, but they have different styles, and Trotz will have to decide which is better suited for this year’s team.

On defense, it appears that Madison Bowey, Christian Djoos, and Aaron Ness are competing for the two openings on the blueline.  Neither Bowey or Djoos played in Sunday’s game. It is worth noting that only Bowey is waiver-exempt, which means he can be sent down to Hershey without being claimed by another team. That may play against him as the Capitals make their final roster decision, but expect to see Bowey with the Caps at some point this season.

First Period

Scoring:  Tom Wilson put home a rebound off a Brett Conolly shot for their first lead since September 20 in Montreal. Wade Megan tied the game for the Blues on a delayed penalty on a backhand shot a little more than 3 minutes after Wilson scored.

John Walton with the call on Tom Wilson’s goal

John Walton with the call on Wade Megan’s goal

The Good:  Shots! We got shots! (And a goal.) After a sluggish start in previous games, the Caps put several shots on Blues goalie Jake Allen early.  Meanwhile, it took St. Louis nine minutes to get their first shot on goal. The Caps lead in shots 9-4. The Capitals also only had one giveaway.

The Bad: The Blues had the advantage on faceoffs, winning 12 of 22 faceoffs (55%). They also led 3-1 in takeaways after the first frame.

The Ugly:  The top 6 continued to struggle offensively, tallying just 2 shots (Burakovsky and Oshie) in the first 20 minutes.

Second Period:

Scoring: Dmitrij Jaskin scored at 4:03 on a 2 on 1 against defenseman Aaron Ness. Devante Smith-Pelly scored his second of the preseason off a rebound from Matt Niskanen 2:52 later. Carlson and Orpik turned over the puck in front of the net and Orpik fanned on the pass while Blues forward Brayden Schenn, who they acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers at the draft, snapped one past Braden Holtby on the power play to regain the lead for the Blues with 7:45 remaining in the period.

John Walton’s call with Dmitrij Jaskin’s goal

John Walton with the call on Devante Smith-Pelly’s goal

John Walton with the call on Brayden Schenn’s goal

The Good: The Capitals wasted no time responding to Jaskin’s goal.

The Bad: The Capitals took six penalties in the period, including three in the last three minutes. Defenseman John Carlson took a slashing penalty 1:45 into the frame, and got called again at the end of the period. Evgeny Kuznetsov got called for holding 9:11 into the period. Tom Wilson took another penalty 13:02 for high sticking. He also had a hard hit on the Blues’ Sammy Blais that Jdrew a major penalty and a game misconduct.  Caps radio voice John Walton speculated that the League could look at that hit and suspend Wilson, who received a two gamesuspension earlier this preseason for a hit on the Blues’ Robert Thomas. Schenn took exception and fought Wilson after the hit. The first line of Alex Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, and Jakub Vrana still haven’t gotten a shot on goal. The Caps would start the first 44 seconds of the third period on the wrong side of a 5-on-3. Wilson, who is expected to pursue a third line role to start the season, will have to stop being reckless or else it’s going to be a long season for No. 43.

The Ugly: Brooks Orpik’s costly turnover turned into a 3-2 Blues lead. They also had trouble getting out of the neutral zone and gave up 10 shots in that period. Oh, and the Blues had 14 shots in the second period alone. The Caps also finished the second period with 27 penalty minutes.

Third Period

Scoring: John Carlson tied the game at 3 on a backhand down low with 16:20 to go into the period. Kuznetsov and Ovechkin helped did a lot of the setup work on the tying goal. Brett Connolly scored his second of the game with 4:20 left while splitting the defense after some nice passing from Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov, and Smith-Pelly to take the lead 4-3.

John Walton with the call on John Carlson’s goal

John Walton with the call on Brett Connolly’s goal

The Good: The Capitals survived Wilson’s five-minute penalty without letting in a goal. They dictated the third period in the offensive zone, perhaps their best period of the preseason. The offense is finally clicking, scoring 4 goals in the game after having 8 in all preseason long before this afternoon. The Caps need that kind of confidence after an inconsistent preseason.

The Bad: The Caps took their seventh penalty of the day when Smith-Pelly hooked Blais 8:47 into the period. Fortunately for the Caps, that was the only penalty of the third.

The Ugly: If I missed anything, show it in the comments because I didn’t hear anything!

Game Stats

Power Play:                           Blues – 1/7      Capitals – 0/2

Shots:                                      Blues – 23      Capitals – 21

Faceoffs:                                 Blues – 47%     Capitals – 53%

Hits:                                         Blues – 19        Capitals – 21

Washington’s Lines for the Game

Up Next: The Capitals will start their 82 game regular season on Thursday night in Ottawa against the Senators, who will be without All-Star defenseman Erik Karlsson due to surgery he had in the offseason. The Senators and the Capitals both got eliminated in Game 7 at the hands of the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins, the Capitals in Round 2 and the Sens in double overtime of the Eastern Conference Final. Buckle up Caps fans! This should be a very exciting year.

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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