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Caps win with late bounces, and kids, goalies and newcomers shine along the way

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps /

Something Wild - In a regular season or playoff game, losing the way the St. Louis Blues lost on Wednesday night in Washington would be difficult to shake off. But the Blues' 3-2 loss to the Caps came in a meaningless preseason affair, and with their names freshly engraved on the Stanley Cup, with Cup rings coming their way in a matter of days and a Cup banner raising two weeks off on the horizon, the setback is less jarring than a sneeze.

The Blues had the Caps down 2-1 late in the game, but Washington cashed in on a pair of fortuitous bounces in the final minute to avoid overtime and claim victory.

In his first game in a Caps sweater, Richard Panik showed deft hands, quickly scoring off a clean rebound off the back wall to tie the game at 2-2 with exactly a minute left. John Carlson's drive from the point caromed hard and straight off the wall and right back in front, where Panik located it and slammed it behind Blues goalie Evan Fitzpatrick from the top of the paint. The goal came in a 6-on-4 situation; the Caps were on the power play and had pulled netminder Ilya Samsonov for an extra attacker.

With time winding down below 10 seconds and overtime looming, Nicklas Backstrom carried through neutral ice and lobbed the puck toward the net where it took a wild bounce and skipped right past Fitzpatrick and into the cage with 6.9 seconds left. That was the game.

Video: STL@WSH: Backstrom buries clutch game-winner

Radko Gudas scored the Caps' first goal; he was also playing in his first game in a Washington sweater. The victory was the Capitals' second in as many exhibition outings. Tom Wilson's overtime goal gave them a 4-3 win over Chicago on Monday.

"That's Nick Backstrom right there," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "It's nice the way both of our games have turned out this year, that we've gotten some contributions from new guys in both games. And then at the end of the games, who scores our goals but our leadership guys, with Tom really coming into that phase, with scoring three-on-three and then Nick does so many good things for us.

"So we had some fun with that, and that's fortunate obviously, but he is a smart player. You use every advantage you can use."

Rather than run out the clock, Backstrom threw the puck on net. And why not? It took an untamed bounce, and provided a wild finish.

"I think you guys have all watched him enough to know he doesn't really dump a lot of pucks on net, randomly," says Reirden. "He is as crafty as they come, and as creative as they come."

Saved - After Pheonix Copley started and went the distance in Washington's preseason opener against Chicago on Monday, the Caps split the goaltending duties between Vitek Vanecek and Samsonov against the Blues. Vanecek stopped 13 of 14 shots and was beaten only when a centering feed from behind the net bounced off a teammate's skate. Samsonov stopped 12 of 13 shots, yielding only a power-play goal to ex-Cap Zach Sanford, who scored via a strong individual effort and a well-placed shot under the bar.

"I liked them both for a couple of different reasons," says Reirden. "Vanecek battles hard, and Samsonov definitely just has a presence in there. So we will continue to watch it move forward from here, but some good saves in the third and I was happy with them."

Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | September 18

Vanecek was busy early, facing seven shots in the first seven minutes, including three on the power play. He stopped all seven, and five of his 13 saves on the night came while the Caps were shorthanded.

Less than two minutes after Samsonov came on in relief, the Caps went on the kill again. Fifty-five seconds later, they were down two men. Gudas, Panik, Beck Malenstyn, Martin Fehervary and Tobias Geisser combined with Samsonov to get the Caps out of the weeds. Samsonov needed to make only one save, but it was a blast off the blade of elite shooter Colton Parayko.

"That's the best part about exhibition games," says Reirden. "You have him come into a situation there where it's not an easy spot. They had some good players out there as well that were on their Stanley Cup-winning team last year that are part of their power play, so it was a good challenge, and he stepped in there and did well.

"We had some different guys out there than we normally would have out there and they made some good plays. There was a lot of good stuff to take from that game. Certainly a lot of scrambly hockey as well, and some lack of execution, but it's a good game for us to take some positives from as well."

The Killing Floor - Panik's two-way ability was on display in his debut. In addition to his game-tying goal, he skated 4:42 in shorthanded ice time, leading all Washington forwards.

Video: STL@WSH: Panik pots equalizer with power-play goal

"I'm happy with the player," says Reirden of Panik. "We haven't seen him a ton over the last little bit when he has been in the West, but someone that we targeted this summer, and I think our management did a great job of finding that player. We knew that he would be able to provide some really solid two-way hockey, and then you see him in all situations today - all situations. And then he ends up converting for us at the end there, and that's great for us."

Panik and linemates Carl Hagelin and Connor McMichael were also dominant offensive-zone forces at five-on-five; all three finished with possession (Corsi) numbers upward of 65 percent.

"We are fast skaters, all of us, so that's our advantage," says Panik. "We have to do it more to put the pressure on their [defense] and they're going to eventually turn it over."

Gudas had a very active night, with a goal and an assist, eight shot attempts, three hits, and 20:55 in ice time. He logged 3:52 while the Caps were down a man, as Washington faced six shorthanded situations on the night.

"Obviously it's good to get it going, get into a rhythm," says Gudas of the shorthanded ice time. "It would be nice not to have so many of them for sure, but it's still preseason. We were working and I thought we got better as a team, as a group."

"The other thing that I thought was great for our team," says Reirden, "was the fact that you have Gudas, who scores a goal and then Panik scores a goal. We talked before the game about their first time wearing the Caps jersey, even though it's not a regular season game and they're not first-year pros. But it's still kind of a fun challenge for them and an exciting time for them, coming to a new team. I think that was something I emphasized after the game, so that was good."

Kid Stuff - Brett Leason made his NHL preseason debut, skating the right side of a line with Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. Leason logged 11:46 on the night, including just over a minute of shorthanded time. He picked up the primary assist on Gudas' goal.

"I liked Leason in his first game, playing with two world class players," says Reirden. "That was certainly uneasy for him early on, and he makes a nice play on the [Gudas] goal, to win a battle at the net front."

McMichael played for the second time in as many games, centering for Panik and Hagelin. He had three shots on net in 13:54, but won only one of seven draws (14%). In the first period, he cut to the net and tried to shoot from between his legs, hoping for some space on the short side. But Blues goalie Jordan Binnington took away the lower third with his pad, and pokechecked McMichael before he could squeeze the shot off.

Video: Postgame Locker Room | September 18

"It's a pretty good goalie he was trying that move on," says Reirden. "But he has some swagger to him; he has some confidence. He is not afraid to try plays. That's some of the stuff that pushes guys into the first round, and he makes a lot of plays in tight areas, under pressure, and his hands are good. To pull that off would have been nice, especially in that situation.

"But that's who he is, and you don't want to take the creativity from him. At the same time, you would like to see him put it in the back of the net as well. But again, good showing from them and that's what this is about. These first few exhibition games - especially at home this year, the way it sets up - allows for me to get some of the match-ups I want to have at times, and to see different guys in different situations."

Aliaksei Protas also played for the second time in as many games. He was again noticeable, making a good play to set up a Malenstyn scoring chance from the slot. Protas' big stick and boardinghouse reach were also noteworthy both on the forecheck and in his own zone. He skated 9:58, including 1:55 of shorthanded time.

Fehervary skated 5:44 of shorthanded time - the Caps were down a man for 9:21 total - to lead all Washington defensemen, and he finished with 18:49 on the night.

Up The Hill Backwards - Binnington started Wednesday's game for the Blues, playing the first 40 minutes and yielding one goal on 23 shots. Astoundingly, it was his first ever start in a preseason game for St. Louis.

The Blues drafted Binnington in the third round (88th overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, but until January of this year, his NHL experience consisted of one relief outing of 13 minutes in duration, back in 2015-16. By the time he finally got his first NHL starting assignment in January, he was a veteran of 204 minor league games scattered over seven seasons.

When the Blues won the Stanley Cup three months ago, Binnington was in net for all 16 victories and likely garnered some Conn Smythe votes as playoff MVP.

By The Numbers - Dmitry Orlov led the Caps with 21:40 in ice time and 19:12 of even-strength time … Ovechkin led the Caps with 6:51 in power play time, nine shots on net and 15 shot attempts … Gudas and Fehervary led the Caps with three hits each … Geisser and T.J. Oshie led the Caps with two blocked shots each.

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