With training camp on the horizon for NHL teams and the Washington Capitals set to open theirs on Sunday, head coach Peter Laviolette told the media that he thinks that it is important to make sure that the team “is getting up to speed and put things down into place” heading into his first camp with the group. The plan is for the Capitals to have two scrimmages and practice special situations in training camp with no exhibition games this season.
Laviolette said the biggest challenge of this year’s training camp will be “getting in with the players” and getting a new group on the same page at the pace that he wants.
Regarding the battle for the back-up goaltender job after Henrik Lundqvist announced that he will not play this season due to a heart condition and the Capitals signed unrestricted free agent Craig Anderson to a professional try-out, Laviollete told the media that “[Lundqvist] was really excited to be apart of the Capitals’ family.” He wishes Lundqvist the best and is excited to see how Anderson, Vitek Vanecek, and Pheonix Copley will do in camp. Laviolette called the competition for the back-up job “a great battle.”
Laviolette added that he is “excited to get [Samsonov] back and healthy and want[s] to see what he can do.” He is also eager to watch Vanecek and Copley.
On the taxi squad, Laviolette said that he likes the idea of it for this season. “It’s going to be a long, hard sprint to the end,” he said. The 56-year-old called it “important to [the] team’s success” and said the availability of the taxi squad “could be a bonus for every team.”
Laviolette said that COVID-19 has made preparation for training camp a “different time” and that he has done a lot of work on Zoom lately. He thinks that the staff “has done a tremendous job getting everyone ready.” “We’ll be ready to go. … Everybody’s looking forward to it,” he added.
On the training camp roster, Laviolette said that there will be two groups and thinks that it is important “to get to our team and work with them to get everybody on the same page.” Laviolette wants the players on the taxi squad to be up to speed on what the team is doing.
When asked about center Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has seen his production decline in each of the past two seasons after leading the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs with 32 points, Laviolette said that he has had conversations with him. “The goal is to get the best out of every player,” Laviolette responded, adding that he wants to push everybody to be their best and that this will be a clean slate for everybody.
Laviolette said that being required to wear a mask behind the bench for the time being “will probably good for me. My mother will be happy.” He added that the team “will respect protocols” and “I’m just excited to be back.”
He told the media that he has talked to Capitals’ captain Alex Ovechkin “three-to-four times” on the phone but has not gone out to dinner with him yet because of quarantine. Once he does, he would “would love to” go out to eat with his star forward.
Laviolette said that getting to know his new players is “going to happen. Everybody’s excited to learn a new system and be able to play it in a certain way.”
Regarding the distribution of responsibility amongst his coaching staff, Laviolette “feel[s] comfortable to work with the guys that I’m working with” and is eager to learn from new coaches. He “thought Scott Arniel did a great job with the penalty kill and forwards last year.” Laviolette said that the dip on the power-play last season “happens to every team” and “has full confidence” in assistant Blaine Forsythe after meeting with him. The Capitals’ power-play ranked 17th in the NHL with a 19.4% power-play efficiency, arguably an underperformance considering the talent that the Capitals have on their man advantage. Assistant Kevin McCarthy “really wanted to come” when he found out Laviolette landed in Washington and will be in charge of the defense. Laviolette said that he “has a way of skill development and teaching players.” He also expressed excitement about the idea of working with goaltending coach Scott Murray. “I really like the staff,” Laviolette said.
With nine defensemen on the Capitals’ roster requiring waivers to get sent down to the AHL’s Hershey Bears, Laviolette said that he expects more mixing and matching amongst the blueline. He “could” want to distribute playing time among defensemen based on match-ups but added that he does not want to put the leading scorer on the Bears on the fourth-line. “I think the taxi squad is going to be important,” he added.
Laviolette said that he told his wife that “I’m anxious” after nearly a year off the ice as he has been out of work since January 6, when the Nashville Predators fired him. He described the process of training camp as “riding a bike” and said, “I’m looking forward to it.”
“I believe everybody’s expected to start on time,” Laviolette ended with. “Everyone’s good to go for January 3.”
By Harrison Brown