The Caps opened up a three-game preseason homestand on Friday night, suffering a 4-0 blanking at the hands of the St. Louis Blues. On Saturday night at Capital One Arena, the Capitals will close out their lone set of back-to-back games of the exhibition season when they play host to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Step Right Up - With three exhibition games behind them, and three more ahead after Saturday, tonight's contest with Carolina marks the midpoint of Washington's seven-game preseason slate.
For the first time in the last few autumns, there are a number of jobs available in Washington's training camp this season. But thus far, few have stepped forth to assert themselves and separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
"We've changed our format this year," says Caps coach Barry Trotz, "because we knew we had lots of competition. So some guys have been taking advantage with some good play in the games. Some guys haven't stood out in games. And then in the scrimmages, some guys who have been good in the games have seemed to stand out in the scrimmage as well, and then some guys haven't.
Video: Barry Trotz Pregame | September 23
"They're sort of making their own bed. They'll decide who plays and who doesn't. We might have to get down to the nitty gritty on a couple of guys, but for the most part they're sort of separating themselves. I'm not too keen on a lot of the scrimmages, because I don't think they've been as intense as I'd like them to be."
Given that we're approaching the halfway mark of the preseason, would Trotz have expected more players to achieve some separation by now?
"In some areas, yeah," he replies. "In some areas you're a little deeper, so the competition is a little tighter. I would say it is more difficult at the forward position for me personally. And every coach will have a different opinion. But for me personally, I think the fight for positions at forward is probably a tougher call than the defense one."
Video: Rinkside Update | Matt Niskanen | September 23
Blueline Shuffle? - Tonight's game marks the 2017 preseason debut for Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen. Niskanen's usual defense partner Dmitry Orlov is also in the lineup tonight, but the two will not be paired together.
Niskanen will partner with rookie Christian Djoos while Orlov will skate on his off (right) side in a pairing with rookie Jonas Siegenthaler. When one looks at the Washington blueline depth chart, it's convenient to see Orlov and Niskanen as the team's top pair, which leaves vacancies on the left side of a duo with John Carlson, and on the right side of a duo with Brooks Orpik.
During his three seasons here in the District, Niskanen has skated mostly with Karl Alzner and Orlov. Both of those players have played some of the best hockey of their careers as Niskanen's partner, so it may be tempting to put one of the young defensemen with him this season, especially given that Orlov is comfortable playing on the right side.
Earlier this week, I asked Caps associate coach Todd Reirden about the possibility. As is usually the case, his reply was thorough.
"That's the game within the game," says Reirden," and something as a coach that you really enjoy. You gravitate toward these types of decisions and the reasons you're making those decisions. Those are fun things as a coach.
"Every pairing that we've tried and - whether it's in games or practices or in intrasquad games - has had some thought put into it. Everything is done with a reason and a purpose, and it's done with some long term gain in mind, whether that long term gain refers to the opening of the season or after the trade deadline. We are going to look at a lot of different things. There are a lot of moving parts, and a lot of things we can do and we are open to doing at this point.
"There is a fairly good likelihood that you'll see Niskanen and Orlov starting together, and then we'll look to find the right pieces to be a part of pairings with John and with Brooks. Moving forward from that is probably a little bit of our foundation to start. But even in that statement, there are so many variables in play. The amount of special teams play we've seen in preseason so far forces you to evaluate players a little bit differently, because of maybe their specialization in certain areas, whether it's killing penalties or expertise on the power play.
"We lost a significant part of our penalty kill with Karl Alzner leaving. Do you find the guy that is your best penalty killer to fit into your top six? Or, realizing there could be a lot more power play stuff, do you go with a second-pair power play guy? Or do you interchange in those spots?
"Like I said, there are a lot of variables and it's something that's constantly being evaluated. It's something that within the game it happens differently pretty much every night, and you've got to play it by ear and you've got to make sure that the terminology that's used by everyone in your organization is something that's very universal, that we use in our room and in the room in Hershey, so that there is really very limited difference between certain players playing with one another. It happens a lot more than people think during a game.
"You're seeing situations with a lot of penalties, and that's what I'm really planning on, I would say for sure for the first 10 games, and probably more than likely for the first 20 games. So going into that decision will be a fair amount of special teams thought as well, and how we can utilize the resources we have with some of these players to maximize not only their ability, but also their positional specializations that may allow us to have success in each spot. It's a fun challenge."
Video: Two-Man Advantage | September 23
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Capitals to look for Saturday night's home exhibition contest against the Hurricanes:
8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 39-Chiasson
25-Smith-Pelly, 83-Beagle, 43-Wilson
13-Vrana, 72-Boyd, 42-W. Simpson
79-Walker, 16-Albert, 24-Barber
86-Teravainen, 11-Staal, 14-Williams
42-Nordstrom, 16-Kruger, 23-McGinn
15-Saarela, 88-Necas, 59-Kuokkanen
73-Zykov, 71-Wallmark, 44-Gauthier