By this time next week, the Caps will have their first regular season game in the books and will be preparing to host the Montreal Canadiens in their home opener for 2017-18.
But first, they've got a couple more exhibition games this weekend and more than a couple of roster and personnel decisions to make. Tonight in Raleigh, the Caps play their penultimate preseason contest against the Carolina Hurricanes. On Sunday afternoon, they'll head to the Midwest to take on the St. Louis Blues in their exhibition finale.
Video: Two-Man Advantage | September 29
Different Approach - In Washington's last two training camps, jobs and roster spots were all but settled before the start of camp, with a few minor exceptions. As such, the Caps were able to look at and evaluate young players early in camp, and then they were able to quickly get down to 25 or 26 players. The team's coaching staff routinely used the last couple of preseason games as dress rehearsals in which the veteran players could have a couple of low leverage tune-ups to ramp up for the start of the season.
This fall, all that has changed. The Caps' coaching staff and hockey operations personnel have been evaluating for the first five of the team's seven exhibition games. If this fall were to follow the script of autumns past, the Caps would have their roster all but settled now and we'd be seeing most - if not all - of the team's opening night roster tonight in Raleigh and Sunday in St. Louis.
Instead, jobs are still up for grabs. The roster is still unsettled. And 10 of the 20 players Washington will be bringing to Raleigh tonight are among those still seeking to assert themselves in the battle for jobs.
"I think you look around the league," says Caps coach Barry Trotz, "and different teams are in different situations. Some teams are still trying to define their roster, and we are in that group. There are teams that are managing their roster because they've got guys who are banged and injured. They're trying to get healthy before the season starts, so they're playing with a good portion of their lineup, but they're trying to get people healthy. And other teams are all set, so everybody is in a little bit of a different boat.
"This is a little bit different for us. The last two years for the most part, we've gone with the [opening night] lineups. A few years back would probably be more like this year."
Depending upon how Friday's game in Raleigh goes, might the Caps dress their opening night lineup on Sunday in St. Louis?
"I would like it to be, yeah," admits Trotz. "But if we're not where we need to be, then we'll do what we need to do."
Video: Rinkside Update | Lars Eller
Another Look - Tonight is a critical viewing for several Washington job hopefuls. Alex Chiasson, in camp on a PTO invitation, will skate the Caps' top line with Andre Burakovsky and Nicklas Backstrom. Jakub Vrana, the team's 2014 first-round pick, has had a strong camp as he bids for a top nine berth on the wing. He will skate with veterans Lars Eller and Tom Wilson.
Jay Beagle will center for the two guys who have scored Washington's two even-strength goals this fall, Tyler Graovac and Devante Smith-Pelly. Both of those wingers are on the bubble, though Graovac has acquitted himself quite well in each of his exhibition outings.
Speaking of those who have acquitted themselves well in their preseason showings, add Nathan Walker to that list. He and Chandler Stephenson are playing together tonight, skating on a line with Brett Connolly. Connolly's roster spot is secure, but he has a chance to nail down a top six wing spot, which would mean playing time alongside either Backstrom or Evgeny Kuznetsov, a potential boon for any scoring winger.
Finally, two of Washington's three blueline pairings tonight will be comprised of job seeking defensemen. Aaron Ness will play with Taylor Chorney, with the latter skating on his offside, something he has shown comfort and ease in doing. The third pair is made up of lefty Christian Djoos and righty Madison Bowey.
Bowey has played only two preseason games to date, but has played well and has skated upwards of 20 minutes in both contests.
Video: Barry Trotz Pregame | September 29
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Capitals to look for Friday night's preseason contest against the Canes in Carolina:
65-Burakovsky, 19-Backstrom, 39-Chiasson
13-Vrana, 20-Eller, 43-Wilson
91-Graovac, 83-Beagle, 25-Smith-Pelly
79-Walker, 18-Stephenson, 10-Connolly
20-Aho, 11-Staal, 28-Lindholm
59-Kuokkanen, 49-Rask, 14-Williams
53-Skinner, 7-Ryan, 88-Necas
42-Nordstrom, 16-Kruger, 23-McGinn
4-Fleury, 57-van Riemsdyk