Oct. 1 vs. St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center
Time: 3:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7
Washington Capitals 1-5-0
St. Louis Blues 3-4-0
Nearly two weeks after opening their seven-game preseason slate for 2017, the Caps will close the books on that exhibition schedule with a Sunday afternoon visit to St. Louis to take on the Blues.
The Caps have dropped four straight preseason games coming into Sunday's finale, and they've scored a total of just eight goals - three of them at even-strength - in their six exhibition outings to date.
Washington has yet to dress a fully representative lineup for the preseason, and it appears as though some evaluation of players for opening night roster spots is still ongoing. The Caps' lineup for Sunday's game includes what we believe will be the team's top 10 forwards for opening night, but the fourth line wing spots and the extra forward(s) berth(s) may still be for grabs.
Video: Two-Man Advantage | October 1
Alex Chiasson and Devante Smith-Pelly will skate alongside Jay Beagle on Washington's fourth line in Sunday's game against the Blues. Both players are in the hunt for fourth-line wing duty in Washington this season, but so are Tyler Graovac, Anthony Peluso, Chandler Stephenson and Nathan Walker. Since the Caps are likely to carry 13 as opposed to 14 forwards, three of the aforementioned six players could be trimmed between now and Tuesday's 5 p.m. deadline for the setting of opening night rosters.
Smith-Pelly had a strong showing in Friday night's 3-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh. He set up Matt Niskanen's goal - the Caps' only goal of the game - and just misfired on a chance to score a goal of his own in the first period. Of the Caps' three even-strength goals during the preseason, Smith-Pelly has scored one and supplied the primary assist on another.
"I thought he was really good," says Niskanen, speaking of Smith-Pelly's performance in Friday's game. "That was a heck of a pass. He was around the puck a ton. He made a lot of subtle little plays along the boards to either advance it out of a dangerous area, or set up a pressure situation, and he had the puck a lot. It just seemed like he was in the mix - bumping guys, protecting the puck, getting in on the forecheck, had some shots, had some [scoring] chances. It was a good game for him."
Although scoring has been thin for the Caps this preseason, the battle for positions up front is ongoing and still unsettled. Friday night's loss at Carolina may have provided a bit more clarity for Caps coach Barry Trotz and his staff as they attempt to sort out which 13 or 14 forwards will crack the opening night roster, and which dozen will get sweaters on opening night in Ottawa.
"Some guys took a step forward, and some guys maybe took a half step back," says Trotz. "Do I have it totally clear? No, not totally clear. But I know when we sit down with [Caps GM Brian MacLellan] there is obviously the business side, and the moving pieces, [the matter of] waivers, and obviously he'll be probably talking to other teams about what they may have free, or they may want to move a piece here or there, and may not want to lose an asset. So we've got to have that discussion as well before we go forward.
"There are going to be some tough decisions. The decisions that we make are going to be the decisions that work for us right now and for the organization, and we'll go from there."
Video: Rinkside Update | Taylor Chorney | September 30
On the blueline, we know that Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen will comprise the team's top pairing, but Trotz has moved veteran blueliner Brooks Orpik up to the second pairing alongside John Carlson, leaving veteran pros Aaron Ness and Taylor Chorney to serve as the third pairing on Sunday. Rookie defensemen Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos are still on the roster and in the mix, and Washington is likely to trim one of those four blueliners from the roster between now and Tuesday's 5 p.m. deadline for setting the opening night roster.
Might we see Orpik and Carlson together on a defensive pairing to start the season?
"We are considering that," admits Trotz, "especially with the number of road games we have. I think it probably helps restart a guy like Carly. They get moved around - you'll see - when there are special teams and afterwards. It will be a little bit similar to what you saw in training camp, a younger guy with an older guy in what we call those 'bump up' shifts. They'll have different roles. I think we'll be fine that way."
Video: Barry Trotz | September 30
The Blues will also be concluding their preseason slate on Sunday, and for St. Louis, the end of camp can't come soon enough. The Blues were ravaged by injuries this month. They lost forwards Robby Fabbri and Zach Sanford to long-term injuries; both will be out well into calendar 2018. St. Louis is also currently playing without veteran rearguard Jay Bouwmeester and top six forward Alex Steen.
As the Caps witnessed firsthand last weekend at Capital One Arena, the Blues' group of young prospects is a strong one. St. Louis dressed a youth-laden lineup in Washington last weekend, and still skated off with a 4-0 victory over the Capitals. Some of those kids might find themselves in the Gateway City a bit earlier than originally scheduled, given the team's spate of September ailments.