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#CapsDevils Skate Shavings: Opportunities

Crunch time for job seekers as Caps get set for preseason home finale, and Washington power play looks to be top (unit) heavy

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / Monumental Sports Network

Opportunities - Washington's top two lines for tonight's game is comprised entirely of forwards whose spots on the opening night roster, and the Caps are also dressing both bottom six centers, Lars Eller and Jay Beagle. The four players skating the bottom six wing positions tonight are all job seekers hoping to nail down one of the available roster berths.

Jakub Vrana and Travis Boyd will flank Eller while Tyler Graovac and Anthony Peluso will skate alongside Beagle.

"For the most part," says Caps coach Barry Trotz, "I'm setting in on the top six, seven or eight guys; and on the bottom, sort of the same thing. And on defense, tonight you'll see a little lefty/righty thing happen. 

"We're getting down to the short strokes in terms of the end [of training camp] here. It could be the last audition for some guys, and we'll see what they can bring to the table."

On the blueline, the Caps are dressing their top pairing of Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen, and they've also got veterans John Carlson and Brooks Orpik in the lineup. Aaron Ness skates the left side of a pairing with Carlson, and Orpik is partnered with rookie hopeful Madison Bowey.

Ness was a second-round choice (40th overall) of the New York Islanders in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. The 27-year-old Minnesotan skated in 29 games over parts of two seasons with the Islanders, and he has logged 10 NHL games over parts of the last two seasons with Washington. 

Now in his third training camp with the Capitals, Ness is hoping to land a roster spot and a slot - perhaps alongside Carlson - on the team's blueline. Over the course of seven seasons in the AHL, Ness has totaled 34 goals and 167 points in 393 games. Skating ability is his primary asset, and his size (5-foot-10, 184 pounds) is generally seen as his main drawback.

In an era where size matters less and less on the blueline, Ness might be able to land the first opening night roster berth of his NHL career.

"My whole career has been kind of up and down and back and forth," says Ness. "So it's kind of nice to have an opportunity out of camp to hopefully earn a spot, start here, and see how things go. That's obviously my goal, and we'll see what happens." 

Video: Two-Man Advantage | September 27

See You Next Week - The Caps will conclude the home portion of their 2017 exhibition schedule tonight against the New Jersey Devils at Capital One Arena. Washington has won only one of its first four preseason games, but has yet to dress a lineup resembling the one it is likely to ice on opening night a week from Thursday in Ottawa. The Caps' 2017-18 home opener is Oct. 7 vs. Montreal.

The Caps have trimmed their roster by a couple of dozen players since their last preseason outing, a 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night in Washington. With three games remaining - the Caps travel to Carolina on Friday and St. Louis on Sunday - and roster decisions looming, tonight's tilt is an important one for a handful of players who are on the bubble at this point.

Video: Barry Trotz Pregame | September 27

Powering Up - With the offseason departures of Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams, the Caps also have openings on their power play units, where Johansson formerly manned the goal line position and Williams occupied the diamond spot on the second unit. 

Evgeny Kuznetsov is in line to take Johansson's spot, which would create an extremely skilled and talented first unit. Kuznetsov would also be one of the Caps' go-to guys in terms of zone entries with the extra man, an area where Johansson excelled. 

"The plan right now is to just use Kuzy up there [on the first unit] with Nick [Backstrom]," says Caps assistant coach Blaine Forsythe, who is in charge of operating the team's vaunted power play. "It should diversify us a little more and definitely help us with some entries; Jojo was really good at getting into the zone and with puck recoveries. 

"Kuzy gives you a different dimension through the neutral zone where both guys are more than capable of handling the puck, getting it in, and making the right decisions. It gives us a few different look options as well, in the zone."

But loading both top six centers onto that first unit will also leave the second unit without a true center, and with wingers such as Andre Burakovsky and/or Brett Connolly to take the draws.

"The second unit is obviously up for grabs right now," says Forsythe. "There are a lot of guys who are capable of playing in some of those spots, it's just a matter how it all shakes out when the dust settles, and then we'll come up with a plan. We're trying a few things in the preseason to see what works and see what chemistry develops, and then we'll go from there."

Washington's power play has been among the league's top five for five straight seasons, and one reason for that success was the depth the team was able to spread across both units. Now, the first unit has a bit of an obvious edge in talent, and the Caps don't have a true draw man on the second unit.

"That's probably one of the biggest issues we're going to have to worry about," says Forsythe. "We've had [T.J. Oshie] take face-offs, Justin Williams took face-offs, and Connolly took face-offs at times last year. [Burakovsky] is for sure going to be on that second unit, and he is one guy who has taken some face-offs. 

"It's a matter of working with some of those wingers. Hopefully, it works out well and the first unit scores a lot and we won't have to worry about it. And when the second unit does get out there, hopefully they're working with more entries than face-offs. But that's something that we're going to have to solve as we get going and get settled in."

Video: Rinkside Update | Dmitry Orlov

All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Capitals to look for Wednesday night's home exhibition finale against the Devils: 

WASHINGTON

Forwards

8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 10-Connolly

65-Burakovsky, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie

13-Vrana, 20-Eller, 72-Boyd

91-Graovac, 83-Beagle, 14-Peluso 

Defensemen

9-Orlov, 2-Niskanen

55-Ness, 74-Carlson

44-Orpik, 22-Bowey

Goaltenders

70-Holtby

31-Grubauer

 

New Jersey

Forwards

9-Hall, 37-Zacha, 18-Stafford

90-Johansson, 13-Hischier, 14-Henrique

47-Quenneville, 40-Coleman, 23-Noesen

44-Wood, 58-Rooney, 10-Hayes 

Defensemen

2-Moore, 28-Severson

8-Butcher, 50-Loov

25-Mueller, 16-Santini

Goaltenders

35-Schneider

1-Kinkaid

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