Alex Ovechkin’s skates hit the ice just before 10 a.m. this morning as the Caps held their first practice of training camp in preparation for the 2009-10 NHL season. It was no surprise that the Capitals’ superstar left wing was the team’s first player on the ice as camp got underway on Sunday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
Sixty-eight players (40 forwards, 22 defensemen and six goaltenders) are listed on the Capitals’ training camp roster and 65 of those players took the ice today at Kettler.
The absentees were left wing Tomas Fleischmann, goaltender Braden Holtby and defenseman Grant McNeill.
Fleischmann is suffering from deep vein thrombosis, a condition that may have been inflicted on the long airline flight from D.C. to Fleischmann’s home in the Czech Republic at the conclusion of last season. Caps coach Bruce Boudreau expects Flesichmann to be able to return to practice sometime in October and perhaps to the lineup by the second or third week of next month.
"I don't know the exact date, but it's single digits in October that he's allowed to practice with the team and take full contact," says Boudreau. "After that, It's up to Tomas as to how long it's going to take him to get ready. Talking to him this morning, he said he likes to skate by himself anyway to get in shape. So skating by himself in the morning with our strength guy is not going to be anything different to him. By the time he is ready to play, I believe it won't take him very long to be game-ready."
Holtby tweaked a groin and was held out as a precautionary measure. McNeill had off-season knee surgery and is not ready to go as of yet.
“He tweaked his groin today,” says Boudreau of Holtby. "The young guys, they never want to get off the ice and they’re going to play through the pain. He said he’d never pulled a groin before so he didn’t know if it was pulled or not. I think he’s going to be fine, but we’re probably being a little overcautious.”
On the plus side of the medical ledger, right wing Eric Fehr took the ice today, albeit in a yellow caution jersey. He has been skating for several weeks now but is not yet at the level where he can absorb bodychecks.
Defenseman Josh Godfrey was back on the ice after suffering a hip pointer in Friday’s 7-3 loss to the Flyers in the annual rookie game between Washington and Philadelphia. And winger Stefan Della Rovere took the ice for the first time on Sunday after missing training camp with an injury suffered before he reported to Kettler for rookie camp last Sunday.
Fleischmann’s absence for what could be the first few weeks of the regular season could give someone lower on the team’s depth chart a chance to shine and to open some eyes. Alexandre Giroux – a 60-goal scorer at AHL Hershey last season – is one of those players. He skated on the left side of a line with veterans Brendan Morrison and Alexander Semin today.
Giroux had a strong camp with Washington in 2006, nearly making the opening night roster before being one of the team’s final cuts.
Chris Bourque is another who could benefit from the window of opportunity that has opened because of Fleischmann’s ailment. The 23-year-old Bourque has spent the last four seasons with Hershey of the AHL where he has nothing left to prove. He nearly cracked the Caps’ opening night roster last fall with an excellent camp showing.
Here’s what Boudreau had to say about Bourque on Saturday:
“He looks like he has put on some muscle this year. The competition is so tough when you look at the left side. He did a great job last year at camp; he is just going to have to do more this year. And I don’t know what ‘more’ entails. We have six games. I know he played six out of seven last year but he probably won’t play that many this year. He won’t play all six, but we are going to give him every chance. There is a chance that there might be one spot open and hopefully if he’s willing to take it, we will give him a good shot at it.”
Beyond Giroux and Bourque, there are other possibilities as well.
"You never know," offers Boudreau. "Brendan Morrison played left wing last year. Quintin Laing is a left winger. I think we have options. Eric Fehr, if he's ready, played left wing last year. As much as we miss Flash, at least we have options."********
Competition should be fervent for the six or seven blueline spots in Washington this season. Among the younger or bubble players seeking blueline berths are Tyler Sloan, Karl Alzner
and John Carlson
“I don’t really know right now,” says Boudreau, when asked what the bubble boys might have to do to assert themselves and move up into the top six or seven on the team’s depth chart. “I’m just going to watch and they’re either going to jump out at you in tremendous fashion or they’re not.
“For example, I thought Tyler Sloan had a great practice today, so I noticed that right off the bat. He looks like he is in tremendous shape and he has always been a great skater.
"You just go, and you watch. They will make the decisions for us. We’re not going to make the decisions. They’re going to show in training camp who is good and who is not good. And if they play great and make a tough decision for us, great.”
Sloan is a 28-year-old self-made player who finally ascended to the NHL last year. He got into 26 regular season and two playoff contests with the Caps last season. Sloan was a key cog on the Hershey Bears 2009 Calder Cup championship team.
“It’s going to be tough,” says Sloan. “There are 11 more than capable guys that can play here and all have contracts, and they’ve got great contracts. So I’ve got a big challenge on my hands. I feel like I can have a great camp and play really well but if everybody else does too, there still might not be room. If that’s the case, if I clear waivers or if I don’t, I can’t control that stuff. I’ve just got to focus on the task at hand, focus on the scrimmage [Monday], play my best and play my game.
Less than two weeks shy of his 21st birthday, Alzner has stated his intentions to add more physicality and grit to his game this season.
“I worked out a lot more,” says Alzner of his summer work, “and I lifted a lot heavier just to change the way that I normally do things and how much bulk I put into the workouts so that I could get a little bit stronger. Guys are huge up here and you can’t push them over if you don’t have that strength. That was something I worked on the entire summer. And obviously speed, the same thing with strength. The guys are a heck of a lot faster than anywhere I’ve played.”
Participating in his second NHL training camp and preparing for his first pro season, Carlson has been in town for the last week as he took part in the Capitals’ rookie camp last week. Carlson noted the difference in being on the ice today with NHL caliber players vs. playing with and against his peers last week.
“Practices are that much harder with the big boys out there,” says Carlson. “It’s just a matter of adapting and working your hardest. I was a little bit nervous out there. It’s just going to be about comfort and telling yourself you’re good enough to play out there and then going out there and doing it."Group A will practice at 10 a.m. and Groups B and C will face off in a 12:15 p.m. scrimmage. Each group will get two games and one practice in the upcoming three days.
Caps assistant coaches Bob Woods and Dean Evason will coach one team, Hershey coaches Mark French and Troy Mann will pilot another, and Caps assistant coach Blaine Forsyth and goalie coach Arturs Irbe will run the third squad as the team starts its annual Duchesne Cup tournament on Monday at Kettler.