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Caps Take on Ottawa in Exhibition Action

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
Thursday night finds the Capitals in Ottawa, facing their Canadian capital city counterparts, the Ottawa Senators in an exhibition contest. As it stands right now, both teams are slated to dress a good number of veterans for this game, so fans in attendance will witness mostly players who will be playing in the NHL this season.

For the Caps, the game marks the second game of three straight on the road to open the exhibition slate, and the team’s second of seven exhibition contests overall.

Washington opened its preseason slate last Sunday in Carolina, suffering a 4-3 overtime loss to the Hurricanes on Erik Cole’s 5-on-3 goal in the extra session. Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom and Ben Clymer tallied for Washington in that game.

In preparation for tomorrow’s tilt against the Sens, the Caps staged a mildly controlled scrimmage at Kettler Capitals Iceplex today. With 35 able-bodied players in camp, each team had three forward lines (one team had an extra forward) and three defensive pairings. Both clubs had two netminders.

Caps coach Glen Hanlon has seen a lot of his players on the practice rink since camp opened last Friday. With four exhibition tilts coming up in the next seven days, he will get a chance to see his players in competitive situations against other NHL clubs. Practice is one thing, but the exhibition games will go a long way toward determining which players remain with the Capitals when the regular season gets underway in Atlanta on Oct. 5.

“I think the games are the most important,” says Hanlon. “They’re the real tell-tale sign. I think that the biggest thing that happened for all the young kids is that they went from summer camp, to rookie camp to training camp, and each pace was dramatically quicker. And the next thing you know we play a game against Carolina and it’s like they’ve just been facing someone that’s been shot out of a cannon. All the kids that we [re-assigned], they were all amazed at the pace of the game.

“That’s NHL hockey. If it’s that quick in game one of the exhibition [season], it says a lot.”

The kids held their own in that game against the Hurricanes, carving out a 2-0 lead after two periods. But Washington was ultimately undone by the Carolina power play which struck for three goals, including the game-winner.

“Yeah, it will be. Our mission here in exhibition is that we’ve tried to say that these are an extension of the regular season. We’re going in to win hockey games. We’re not looking to learn our systems. We’re not looking to have tryouts for the shootout. We know going in that if it’s a shootout, [Viktor Kozlov and Michael Nylander] are going to take it. We’re not looking for that fifth and sixth guy in the regular season to see if he can do it in the exhibition game. For us, we’re about preparing ourselves to win and that’s our mission. If it means that we get going in the game and there are some players that aren’t getting the job done, then their minutes will be cut even in exhibition.”

Ottawa had a short summer after advancing to the Stanley Cup finals last spring. The Sens fell in five games to the Anaheim Ducks. After the series, the team bumped ex-Caps coach Bryan Murray from coach to general manager, replacing John Muckler. Former assistant coach and ex-Cap John Paddock was promoted to head coach.

On the ice, the Sens are largely the same team that went to the Cup finals. Defenseman Tom Preissing departed via free agency, and is likely to be replaced by Christoph Schubert, a natural defenseman who skated on the wing last season. Forward Peter Schaefer was dealt to Boston for speedy checking winger Shean Donovan.

The Sens made news earlier this week when they inked center Mike Fisher to a five-year extension worth a total of $21 million. Fisher, who earned a Selke Trophy nomination for his play in 2005-06, was set to become an unrestricted free agent next July 1.

Ottawa put a 4-0 spanking on the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday. Goaltender Martin Gerber stopped all 52 shots he faced and went all the way in the Sens’ lone exhibition game to date. Nineteen-year-old rookie Nick Foligno scored a goal and added two assists to pace the Ottawa attack.

Gerber is expected to be in goal again on Thursday when the Capitals come calling to Scotiabank Place.

The two teams split their four regular season meetings in 2006-07, with each team winning twice in its own house.

Ottawa will make a reciprocal visit to Verizon Center on Sept. 30 to close out Washington’s exhibition schedule.
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