It has been nearly five months since the Washington Capitals were ousted from the playoffs in Game 7 of their opening round series with the Philadelphia Flyers. With a long summer behind them, the Capitals reported for physical exams and photos on Friday and then got back to on-ice business on Saturday.
Sixty-five players took to the ice in three different groups today as coach Bruce Boudreau – conducting his first NHL training camps – put the players through their paces. Boudreau helped lead the team to the playoffs and a Southeast Division crown last season, but both he and his players have higher aspirations for 2008-09.
Off ice, the players are sporting t-shirts with Caps colors emblazoned with the slogan “Good Isn’t Good Enough.”
“We thought we could make some improvement last year and compete for a playoff spot, and we did,” says Caps GM George McPhee. “But the way we got there wasn’t easy. It sure was exciting for everybody. We’re really pleased with the way last year went, with the exception of the way the playoffs ended for us. So we come back this year with the next phase of our plan to rebuild this team and that is to be a consistently good team that can compete for a Cup.
“We like everything that we’re doing in the organization from the way we’re scouting and the way we’re coaching and managing. We’ve got a real good group of players here, and by the looks of things, another wave of real good young players that we’re going to be seeing this year or next year. We’ve got some terrific young players here now, but it looks like we’ve got another wave coming.”
“We’re deep here and we’re talented, and we’ve got guys who can go back and forth between here and Hershey. And guys that if we need to call up someone from Hershey, we’ve either got veteran players there who can come up and help or young guys who can come up and help.”
Boudreau isn’t trying to re-invent the wheel here; he doesn’t need to. Each of the team’s top 18 players in terms of ice time from last season are back in the fold as this fall’s camp gets underway. That group includes each of the Caps’ top 10 scorers from last season, too.
“I think where we left off last year was a pretty good spot,” says Boudreau. “I’m not about to change everything around. They know what I’m like; they know what I expect now. The expectations are very high from me and from the players. But I’m not going to come in and be a new person because we’re starting the season anew. We’ll have a great training camp and we’ll go from there.”
For a bit of added incentive, the Caps three groups of players will compete for the first Duchesne Cup this fall. The winner of the cup will be determined in a series of scrimmages to be held prior to the team’s first preseason game at Carolina on Wednesday. The first of those scrimmages will take place on Sunday at noon at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
|Gaetan Duchesne |
“Gaetan Duchesne was a very popular member of the Caps,” begins Boudreau, “but it was more the way he made the team as an eighth-round pick. Nobody expected much, and on drive and guts and determination, he made the team. That’s what this is all about; the little guy coming up and showing what he can do. We know he passed about a year and a half ago, and we thought it was a little way that we could honor him. Hopefully the cup and the coaches that follow me do the same thing and honor him. But we thought it was a cool idea.”
Saturday’s practice marked the first official on-ice appearance of Caps’ new netminder Jose Theodore, who signed a two-year contract with the Caps last July 1.
“It felt great just being able to really practice at a high tempo and a high speed,” says Theodore. “I’m getting to know some new players again. I just enjoyed myself and it was really fun.”
With Saturday’s initial practice session now behind them, Boudreau and his staff have only three more days worth of practice and scrimmage before the team will need to settle on a lineup of 18 skaters and two goaltenders for its first preseason game in Raleigh against the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday night. Boudreau has given a lot of thought to that lineup already, but he’ll also wait and see who impresses in the next few days before he makes a final decision.
“I’ve given a lot of thought about it,” he admits, “but I’ve changed the lineup 37 times. I’m going to let it go and see who [deserves] rewarding. Some guy comes and you don’t expect him to do much and he’s unbelievable out here, you want to reward them. “You don’t want to make it ‘the old boys club’ where this guy is playing and no matter how good shape you come into camp, you don’t get an opportunity to do something to open someone’s eyes.
“It’s every kid’s dream. Sixty-six kids that are coming out here today want to play on the Washington Capitals. If we can’t sit here and say, ‘Hey, he deserves it, give him an opportunity,’ then we might as well only have 25 guys coming to camp.
Instead of 25, the Caps have 65. And even the ones who have been through many previous NHL training camps are fairly excited to be back on the ice and getting ready for a much anticipated regular season.
“I’ve got to say that this year I feel the most excited since my first couple of years in Montreal,” says Theodore. “I was really excited when I signed here. I had all summer to think about it and I was anxious. Now it’s finally here and just being able to go out there with new teammates, I want to show them that I’m ready to get the job done. I really like the atmosphere here, so I feel like a rookie again.”
He is not the only one.
“It was fabulous,” says Boudreau, speaking of his feeling being back on the ice again.”I was so excited. I couldn’t sleep last night. I know it sounds childish, but I was up at like six o’clock [a.m.] saying, ‘Is its time yet? Is it time to go?’”Notes:
The Caps will give away a Boudreau bobblehead to Caps fans in attendance at the team's Nov. 14 game against the New Jersey Devils at Verizon Center. We got our first look at the prototype and it looks great. Boudreau himself was happy with the way he was portrayed in the bobblehead.
Boudreau told the media on Friday that Backstrom would not likely participate in Saturday’s session.
“We want to be overly cautious,” says Boudreau. “This is still September. Even though it was never a high ankle sprain, we still want to be overly cautious with it. You’ll probably see him by the end of the week, but he probably won’t participate in the scrimmages this week.” Backstrom did take to the ice, but only for part of the day’s activity.
Pothier has made some notable progress recently, according to McPhee.
“He has made a lot of progress in the last month,” says the Caps’ GM, “significant progress in the last month. But, we have to get him in shape now and there are still some things that need to improve.”