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Caps Take on Canes

Caps finish three-game preseason homestand on Saturday against Carolina

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / washingtoncaps.com

September 21 vs. Carolina Hurricanes at Capital One Arena

Time: 7:00 p.m.

TV: NBCSW

Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7

The Caps conclude a three-game preseason homestand on Saturday night when they host the Carolina Hurricanes at Capital One Arena. Saturday's game against Carolina is Washington's last home exhibition match this fall; they'll host the Hurricanes in two weeks in the home opener for the 2019-20 season.

Washington won each of its first two games by a single goal. The Caps edged Chicago in overtime on a Tom Wilson goal 4-3 on Monday, then came from behind with a pair of goals in the final minute to tie and ultimately upend the St. Louis Blues, 3-2 on Wednesday.

The Caps dressed a veteran-laden lineup for Wednesday's game, but they'll revert to a lineup of mostly kids and prospects - particularly up front - for Saturday's home preseason finale against the Hurricanes.

Ilya Samsonov is expected to start in goal for Washington against the Canes, and he is expected to play the full 60 minutes. Samsonov made his '19-20 preseason debut in a relief role on Wednesday, coming off the bench to stop 12 of 13 shots against St. Louis. The only goal he surrendered came on a Blues power play.

Washington's top four on defense will be comprised of players who are either established in the NHL, or played a significant number of games there last season. Prospects Lucas Johansen and Tyler Lewington will also be in the lineup, as the Caps' third pairing.

Up front, several members of the 2018-19 Hershey Bears will see their first NHL action of the preseason, and a quartet of NHL veterans will see action for the second time this fall.

Monday's opener was a bit of a choppy affair, but it was also a quick contest that featured only 39 face-offs in more than 62 minutes of play. Wednesday's game against the Blues featured some funky bounces both ways, but the Caps' team effort was excellent as all 18 Washington skaters finished the night with positive possession numbers.

"It was better," says Caps coach Todd Reirden of the game against St. Louis. "And some of things we are focusing on trying to improve, is playing a little bit more aggressive, faster, speed type of game, where we are able to disrupt the opposition a little bit more than maybe we did in the past. You saw - at least from our standpoint - that there were a number of situations where we really didn't allow them to get in really clean and forecheck us, and I think that's something that will allow us to have more success with breaking pucks out.

"If you're a little more aggressive up the ice, then maybe when you're going back they're not able to ramp up as much speed and come at us as organized as they'd like to be. So that is something structurally that we are working at, trying to trying to improve, trying to get better." 

Video: Todd Reirden | September 20

During the early part of the preseason when rosters turn over almost entirely from one game to the next, it's difficult to sustain that sort of performance from one game to the next. But it will also be more meaningful if the Caps are still holding that sort of territorial edge at this time next week, as they're heading into the last two contests of their six-game preseason schedule.

Like the Capitals, the Canes have shaved their preseason slate down to just six games this fall. Also like the Caps, Carolina has claimed victory in each of its first two exhibition outings. Each of the Canes' first two preseason contests came against Tampa Bay, and the Hurricanes handled the Bolts easily in both games, pitching a pair of shutouts.

Carolina downed the Lightning 3-0 on Tuesday in their preseason opener in Tampa Bay, then returned home and blanked the Bolts 2-0 the next evening in Raleigh. The Canes' game on Saturday in the District is the team's only game in a span of six nights.

After reaching the playoffs for the first time in a decade last spring and advancing all the way to the Eastern Conference final, the Canes had an interesting offseason. They fended off an offer sheet - from the Montreal Canadiens - for star center Sebastian Aho in June, and added center Erik Haula (from Vegas), goaltender James Reimer (from Florida) and a first-round draft choice (from Toronto) in trades. They also signed winger Ryan Dzingel and blueliner Jake Gardiner as free agents.

On the subtraction side of the ledger, the Canes lost captain, top-six forward and former Capital Justin Williams, who is taking some time off as the 2019-20 season gets underway. Williams, who turns 38 on Oct. 4, piled up 53 points (23 goals, 30 assists) last season. Along with San Jose's Joe Thornton (51 points), Williams was one of only two players in the league aged 37 or older to amass 50 or more points last season.

Williams did not announce his retirement, and he waited until August to let the Canes know that they shouldn't expect him at training camp. But there is still a possibility that he has a change of heart and returns to the game and the Hurricanes at some point in the season ahead.

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