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#CapsDevils Postgame Notebook: Whistle Stop

Caps drop penalty-ridden exhibition opener, a deeper dive on the face-off violation calls, and more.

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / Monumental Sports Network

Monday's exhibition opener between the Caps and the New Jersey Devils was a forgettable affair. After taking an early lead on Nathan Walker's shorthanded goal, the Caps surrendered four unanswered goals - three of them in the second period - en route to a 4-1 loss in Newark.

For several players on both sides, Monday's game was a chance to showcase their wares as they vie for available opening night roster spots on their respective teams. But officials for the exhibition game started calling penalties just 19 seconds after opening puck drop, and they didn't stop until just over 90 seconds remained in the game. 

All tolled, there were 20 minor penalties whistled - 10 to each team - and just over 35 minutes of the contest was played at five-on-five. 

"It definitely takes a little bit of the flow out of the game," says Walker. "I guess they're trying to get some new rules, so they were pretty strict on that. It sucks in a way, but they're doing the job they were told to do." 
Video: Caps Postgame Locker Room | September 18
There were three face-off violation bench minors assessed in the first period alone, two of them to the Caps. The two teams also combined to incur six slashing calls between them, highlighting another area where the league intends to crack down. We've been told that little slashes to the hand area are going to be called more strictly this season, and I don't think many people will have an issue with that.

The end result was a first preseason game that looked exactly like what one would expect from a first preseason game, if not a little bit worse.

"This certainly wasn't pretty," admits Caps center Lars Eller. "I think all the center men and wingers really had to adjust in the beginning. They really enforced a zero tolerance with those new rules, and it really caught everybody by surprise. After a while, we adjusted and the refs softened up, too. But they were really hard in the beginning, and that created some confusion. It's an exhibition game." 

Standing Violation - Including preseason and the playoffs, the Capitals played more than 100 games last season. I don't know how many face-off violation penalties were assessed in those games, and haven't been able to locate such data, but I can't remember more than one or maybe two. So it was a little jarring to have that penalty called three times in the first period of Monday's preseason opener.

"I'm one of the guys on the competition committee," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "And the rule is not a new rule. It's supposed to be to get it to the standard that it was when it was implemented, but that standard seems to have gotten real tight. It wasn't anything to do with the referees; the referees were good. They came over early, but we were in a meeting. Then we came out right before warm-ups." 
Video: Barry Trotz Postgame | September 18
Washington was set to go on the game's first power play just 19 seconds into the contest, but after Eller was tossed from the circle, Andre Burakovsky stepped in to take the draw. Burakovsky was whistled for the face-off violation, and New Jersey's Blake Coleman was given credit for drawing the penalty, which goes into the books as a bench minor. 

According to the official play-by-play sheet from the game, Burakovsky was actually - and somewhat incredulously - credited with a face-off win on the play, which is akin to awarding a "hit" to the offender on a boarding minor. 

Later in the first, Caps forward Damien Riat was in the circle when Washington was again called for a face-off violation. Riat was credited with a loss on that draw, and Riley Barber - who wasn't on the ice when the infraction occurred - was sent to serve the penalty.

The Devils were whistled for a face-off violation of their own later in the first frame.

In the past, when the NHL opts to move toward stricter enforcement of a particular rule or when it changes or alters an existing rule, it sends out a video package so players and coaches (and fans) can see what does and what does not constitute a penalty.

"Usually they send a video," says Eller. "There was no video this year. I think someone from the league spoke to Barry right before the game, and Barry told us a couple of minutes before we went out for the game. There was still a little bit of confusion on everybody's side. But you have these games to get everything nailed down and to get the players to adjust, and it is zero tolerance. Players have to adjust, and we did that as the game went on."
Video: WSH Recap: Offense stalls in 4-1 loss to Devils
They did, for sure. But there were some weird side effects. For example, the Caps played 82 regular season games in 2016-17, and there were 4,785 face-offs in those games. Exactly none of them were taken by defensemen. But on Monday night in Newark, two Caps defensemen took draws - Taylor Chorney won his and Lucas Johansen lost his. 

Chorney had to take a shorthanded, defensive zone draw for Washington just 80 seconds after the game's opening puck drop, and it came at the start of a sequence in which the Caps were facing a three-on-four shorthanded situation where teams typically deploy only one forward, usually a center. 

Chorney and Johansen were two of a dozen Washington skaters who took at least one draw in the game. Ten different Devils took at least one face-off. 

Asked after the game when he last won a face-off, a still flummoxed Chorney replied, "Literally never." 

"The NHL always tries to make everything better for the fan experience," says Trotz. "So we want more goals, and we want the pace of play to be quicker. Quickening the face-off rule is one way. Spreading them apart a little bit in terms of the initial drop of the puck when everybody is in sort of a mosh pile - we've sort of spread that out. 

"Players adjust. They're smart, and they're going to adjust. That's why the best time to enforce this stuff is in the preseason." 

Lettermen - Caps captain Alex Ovechkin did not accompany the team to Newark for Monday's exhibition opener, so Washington did not have a captain the game against the Devils. Three Capitals wore the alternate captains' "A" for the game: defensemen John Carlson and Taylor Chorney and forward T.J. Oshie. 

Kid Stuff - Among the several young prospects in the lineup for Washington in Monday's opener, Trotz singled out Travis Boyd and Beck Malenstyn as players who impressed him in the game. 

Asked about the four blueliners competing for roster spots - Christian Djoos, Lucas Johansen, Tyler Lewington and Aaron Ness - who dressed for Monday's opener, Trotz said the whole quartet had its ups and downs. 

"They all had good moments where they did some really good things," says the Caps' bench boss, "and they all had some moments of difficulty. What this league does is it exposes your flaws. That's one of the things the preseason will expose a little bit.

"They may be flaws right now, but most of those things are correctable for players. Sometimes it's better to get exposed a little bit so that it really reinforces the things that you need to work on."

By The Numbers - John Carlson paced the Caps with 23:54 in ice time and 7:08 in power play ice time on the night … Chorney led the Caps with 5:43 in shorthanded ice time and Tyler Graovac led all Caps forwards with 4:17 of shorthanded ice time … Oshie led the Capitals with four shots on net and three hits; he and Carlson led the way with six shot attempts each … The Caps were credited with just three blocked shots in the game, and Ness got in the way of two of those to lead the team … Burakovsky was credited with victories on all three draws he took.

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