Playing their first home preseason game of the 2017 training camp on Friday night against the St. Louis Blues, the Caps were unable to generate any offense at all. Blues netminder Ville Husso was excellent, and the Caps came out of the contest on the wrong end of a 4-0 whitewashing.
The Blues' two first-round picks from the 2017 NHL draft - Robert Thomas (20th overall) and Klim Kostin (31st overall) - accounted for three of the four St. Louis goals, with Thomas potting a pair. Rookie Conner Bleackley netted the other; he and Thomas scored less than a minute apart late in the first period to provide the Blues with all the offense they would require.
The Caps managed 27 shots on net, 13 of them in the third period when they generated most of their best scoring opportunities. Two of the Blues' goals came in transition, in the immediate aftermath of failed Washington rushes at the opposite end of the ice.
"I'm not too happy with our effort tonight," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "I stayed a little quiet because you see where we've got to go right now. Right now, I think we've cut a few corners in terms of our commitment on the ice.
"Tonight, we just didn't come to play."
Video: Coach Trotz talks after #CapsBlues
Bright Spot - Despite the loss and the lack of offense, all was not doom and gloom for the Capitals in this one. Forward Tyler Graovac, obtained from Minnesota in a minor trade in June, was noticeable in a good way virtually every time his skates hit the ice.
Centering for 6-foot-7 Mathias Bau and 6-foot-3 Anthony Peluso, the 6-foot-5 Graovac skated the middle of a true Redwood Line.
Graovac skated well, closed space quickly, created scoring chances and won nine of his 11 face-offs (82%). He was deployed as the lone forward in Washington's three-on-five shorthanded unit on Monday in New Jersey, and he displayed more penalty killing excellence in Friday's game.
A seventh-round choice (195th overall) of the Wild in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Graovac had been with the Minnesota organization for six years at the time of the swap.
"I was actually at a baseball game, playing some slow pitch for the first time," recounts Graovac. "I got a call from [Wild GM] Chuck Fletcher after the fourth inning, and he said, 'Grao, we've traded you to Washington.'
"It was bittersweet. I was with Minnesota since I was 18, and we had a great year last year. But I was thrilled that Washington wanted me. To go from a top place in the West to a top place team in the East, closer to home, really I just want to stay here and show what I have."
Although he has shown quite nicely at the center position in camp, Graovac's best shot of cracking the Washington roster is on the wing. The Caps are stacked up nicely in the middle of the ice, but there is a spot available on the fourth line for a winger who can kill penalties, a spot left open by the offseason departure of veteran winger Daniel Winnik.
"Last year in Minnesota, I played right wing, left wing," says Graovac. "I really see myself as a forward. I'm just trying to show all aspects of my game, really - the [penalty kill], my defensive side. Tonight, I tried to show a little bit more offense and my speed. They want speed, and I'm really trying to fill the roles here and do the best I can."
Video: Caps Postgame Locker Room | 9/22
"He's had two pretty good games," says Trotz of Graovac. "We're getting to know him as a player and as a person, and he is competing. He is a big man who is skating well. He is creating some things, and there are a lot of good things he has done. His face-offs are good. We said there are opportunities, and he is trying to grab one. That will make for some decisions."
By The Numbers - John Carlson paced the Caps with 23 minutes in ice time … Graovac and T.J. Oshie led the Capitals with four shots on net each, and Oshie led the way with seven shot attempts … Peluso, Carlson, Oshie and Tom Wilson led the Caps with three hits each … Taylor Chorney led Washington with three blocked shots … Lars Eller won six of nine draws (67%).