The first game of a new hockey season is rarely a work of art, and so it was for the Capitals and the Nashville Predators on Saturday afternoon in the opening contest of the 2018 Prospect Showcase. Mistakes, turnovers and penalties were more prevalent than flow on both sides, and the Preds skated off with a 5-4 come-from-behind victory over the Caps.
With main training camp less than a week away, the main purpose of the tourney is to enable the young players to find their legs and to ease their way back into the impending season against their peers ahead of training camp, when many of them will graduate from playing against boys to playing against men for the first time.
Video: All-Access | Prospect Showcase Game 1
Over the summer, the AHL Hershey Bears assembled a new coaching staff with Spencer Carbery as head coach and Mike Eastwood and Patrick Wellar as the assistants. So this tournament is also a chance for the coaches to get used to the players and vice versa. Hershey figures to have a significant influx of first-year players this fall, and Saturday was a first chance to open some eyes and show what they're capable of doing on the ice.
"A lot of good things, a lot of positives I saw out there," said Carbery after the game. "One [was] team speed. I thought we were fast; we played fast. Execution off the line rush was one thing that we talked about. We didn't talk a lot about a bunch of different things, but we did talk about attacking off the rush and I thought we executed a couple of the things that we talked about.
Video: Spencer Carbery | September 8
"On the other side of the coin, I'd say [we were] just a little bit sloppy sometimes with some pucks, and that will happen this time of year. But we need to be harder in some areas. We can't be as careless, turning pucks over in dangerous areas. And it was a little bit of a different game with the amount of special teams and kills; sometimes there wasn't great flow to it. But I would say those are the two main things."
Nashville grabbed an early 1-0 lead on a Colin Blackwell goal at 1:28 of the first. Blackwell's goal came on the Preds' first shot on goal of the game, but the Caps answered back with a Mason Mitchell goal at 5:34 to make it a 1-1 game.
Alexander Alexeyev - the Caps' first-round choice (31st overall) in the 2018 NHL Draft, acquitted himself nicely in his debut in a Washington sweater. After Nashville's Mathieu Olivier plastered Caps defender Connor Hobbs into the glass behind the Washington net, Alexeyev dropped the mitts and fought Olivier late in the first.
"When people are hitting my partner and it's dirty, I should protect him and stand up for him. So there is no questions I should do it."
Video: Prospect Showcase Postgame | September 8
Washington took a 2-1 lead at 1:27 of the second on Brian Pinho's shorthanded goal. Pinho stripped a Predator defender of the puck, then wound up and ripped a slap shot to the back of the net.
Late in the middle frame, Shane Gersich finished off a pretty tic-tac-toe play to extend the Caps' lead to 3-1, scoring from the left circle after taking a feed from Garrett Pilon, who just got it from Lucas Johansen.
The two-goal lead last only about three minutes; Nashville's Yakov Trenin scored to make it 3-2 with just 13.7 seconds left in the second.
Washington was the dominant team in the second period, particularly in the first half of that frame, but Trenin's goal was the first of three unanswered goals in less than six minutes. Olivier scored at 2:42, and Blackwell netted his second of the game on a Nashville power play at 5:16 to put the Preds up 5-4.
With the two teams playing four-on-four, Maximilian Kammerer tied it for the Caps at 13:33, going to the net and scoring on a timing play off a fine feed from Alexeyev to make it a 4-4 game.
"When you play four-on-four, you have a little more space to create some chances to score," said Alexeyev. "I tried once, tried to score, but it didn't happen. Then I make a pass, and we score."
But less than a minute later, Olivier scored a breakaway power-play goal that proved to be the game-winner.
Considering that they came together after just a single practice session on Friday and had mostly never played with one another before, the young Caps hopefuls played fairly well.
"That's the difficult thing because hockey is a team sport and it takes a little bit of chemistry to play with your [defense] partner or your linemates," said Carbery. "So it's tough. These guys are having to adjust on the fly and see if they can do everything they can to create a little bit of chemistry, to talk more, to try to read off one another. That's probably the most challenging thing, but you saw some good things from some line combinations - some guys finding each other - so that's good to see in the first game."