When it's all said and done, the 4-3 overtime win in the Caps' first of six preseason games doesn't really matter. But early preseason lineups are liberally sprinkled with young hopefuls, and those young hopefuls showed well for Washington on Monday night at Capital One Arena, helping the club to a come-from-behind victory over the visiting Chicago Blackhawks.
Tom Wilson notched the game-winner in overtime, scoring a dazzling goal with a burst of speed through neutral ice, and finishing with a flourish as he tucked the puck through Hawks netminder Collin Delia at 2:35 of the extra session.
Video: CHI@WSH: Wilson goes coast-to-coast for OT winner
From behind the Caps' net, Aliaksei Protas, Washington's third-round pick (91st overall) in the 2019 NHL Draft, fed Wilson along the half wall and the big right wing did the rest, carrying the mail through all three zones before lighting the lamp and sending the crowd home happy.
"Just a basic wide drive," explains Wilson of the game-winner. "I took it to the net. I just didn't want to have to go in the shootout, so I figured we'd end it there."
For Protas, it was a three-point night (one goal, two assists), but he wasn't the only youngster whose performance was pleasing to the crowd and to coach Todd Reirden on this night.
Video: Wilson nets OT winner as Caps beat Blackhawks, 4-3
Connor McMichael, the Caps' first-round choice (25th overall) in the 2019 NHL Draft had a nifty primary assist on Washington's first goal of the night, a Damien Riat goal at 2:06 of the second period. That tally tied the game at 1-1 after Chicago's Aleksi Saarela scored the lone goal of the first frame.
From the slot, Protas fed Travis Boyd for a power-play goal exactly five minutes after Riat's goal, tying the game at 2-2 after Chicago's Alexander Nylander - son of former Capital Michael Nylander - had restored the Hawks' lead.
Protas' goal came at 8:38 of the second, giving the Caps their first lead of the night. Protas carried out if his own end before dishing to linemate Joe Snively along the right wing wall in neutral ice. Snively pushed the puck along the wall into Chicago territory, and both Protas and Beck Malenstyn went in pursuit. Realizing that Malenstyn would get there first, Protas smartly headed to the net, took the pass from his linemate, and scored on his own rebound.
Video: Postgame Locker Room | September 16
Snively's assist made for a nice moment for the Herndon, Va. product, who played his youth hockey in the area before starring for four seasons at Yale. The helper came in his first NHL preseason game, at the arena where he grew up rooting for the Capitals.
"They had a strong showing," says Reirden of Washington's youth contingent. "Certainly some real positive things with the young center ice man, and obviously Riat scores right away, too. I think he has had a real good camp, and so I was looking forward to getting him in there today.
"But between Protas and McMichael, you can see the skill. It's exciting for our future, and fun to watch them go through their first game together. Both made some really strong plays. It was a good experience."
Pheonix Copley went the distance in net for Washington, stopping 27 of 30 shots to pick up the win. Copley also notched a secondary helper on Wilson's game-winner.
The Caps continue a three-game preseason homestand on Wednesday when the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues roll into town.
Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | September 16