Nearly two weeks after starting their exhibition season with a 4-1 loss to the Devils in New Jersey, the Capitals reach the end of the preseason path with a Sunday afternoon visit to St. Louis where they will take on the Blues.
St. Louis whitewashed the Caps by a 4-0 count at Capital One Arena on Sept. 22.
The Caps carry a four-game preseason losing streak into St. Louis, a span in which they've scored a grand total of just three goals. Washington has managed only eight goals in its half dozen exhibition games to date. With more jobs available than in recent Caps camps, the tenor of training camp has been different this fall.
"It's a lot different," says defenseman Taylor Chorney, "not only on [defense] but also up front, too. I think there is a lot of competition going on. Just the structure of the whole training camp has been a little bit different than what we've had in the past. But things have been going pretty well. We've still got a ways to go as far as getting our game a little tightened up, but we'll be all right."
Video: Two-Man Advantage | October 1
Mostly A Dress Rehearsal - In each of the last two Caps training camps, Washington had the luxury of using its final two games for a "dress rehearsal" of its opening night lineup, giving regulars a chance to ease into the season, ramp up their individual games and develop some group cohesion. But with so many jobs still up for grabs late in camp, the Caps weren't able to do so this fall.
For its penultimate preseason game on Friday in Raleigh, Washington left a number of key veteran players at home as it took another look at 10 players still competing for openings. As the Caps get set to take on the Blues in St. Louis in their preseason finale for 2017, they'll dress the most representative lineup they've had to date during this preseason.
It's possible that Sunday's lineup could mirror the lineup for Thursday's opener in Ottawa, but it's also possible that some tweaks will be seen on the wings of the fourth line and with the defensemen on the third pair.
Knocking On The Door - Eight defensemen are still on Washington's training camp roster, and one of them is likely to be sent to AHL Hershey before Tuesday's 5 p.m. Eastern time deadline for the finalization of opening night rosters.
Veterans John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov and Brooks Orpik are certain to be on the roster, and Taylor Chorney - the team's seventh defenseman over the last two seasons - seems likely to retain that roster spot and could even slide up into the team's regular blueline rotation. That would leave rookies Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos and veteran pro Aaron Ness in a scramble for the final two blueline berths.
Bowey is the only one of those "bubble" defenders who could be returned to AHL Hershey without clearing waivers. The 22-year-old was Washington's second-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, and after two years of AHL seasoning, he is knocking on the NHL door and looking to nail down a job. Whether he does so for the start of the season remains to be seen, but Bowey has shown enough in this fall's camp to set himself up for his NHL debut at some point this season.
Four years after he was drafted, Bowey is now as close to landing in the NHL as he's ever been.
"It's a pretty good feeling. It's a little surreal obviously. I think I've put myself in a good position here. I've developed really well over the last two years in Hershey, and I feel like right now is the best opportunity for all of us young guys to make the jump. I think knowing that you're that close gives you the extra motivation you need to really work hard and give it your all.
"You really can't take a day off, and you realize that coming into camp. When you're that close to a roster spot, it's really special. For me, I'm trying not to take anything for granted right now and I'm really battling hard to hopefully solidify that spot.
Bowey has appeared in three preseason games to date, and he has logged upwards of 20 minutes in all three games, skating on both special teams units. He has also had the opportunity to play on the right side of a pairing with the 37-year-old Orpik, one of the most experienced defensemen in the NHL.
"That's been huge," says Bowey, of the opportunity to skate with Orpik. "He's probably one of the best defensemen in the league to learn from, I would say. For me to be able to be paired with him in practice and in games, it goes a long way for my development. I feel that playing with him you really have to step up your game and improve. These last few weeks, I feel like my game has amped up to another level from playing with him.
"If we end up playing together this year when it's all said and done, it's going to be really good for me. I like to ask him a lot of questions and I learn a lot from him. He's been great teaching me and teaching these young guys and showing us the ropes. It's really fortunate for me to be paired with him, for sure."
Bowey is not in the Washington lineup for Sunday's preseason finale, so his body of work for the preseason is already in the books. Whether he will be in Ottawa when Washington opens the season there on Thursday remains to be seen. But if he's not, it likely won't be long before he is playing at Capital One Arena.
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Capitals to look for Sunday afternoon's preseason finale against the Blues in St. Louis:
8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 13-Vrana
65-Burakovsky, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
10-Connolly, 20-Eller, 43-Wilson
25-Smith-Pelly, 83-Beagle, 39-Chiasson