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Caps drop first exhibition, make series of cuts upon returning from road trip, more

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps /

All Shook Down - The Caps grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first against the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues on Friday night in the Show Me State, but the champs rallied for four unanswered goals in a span of 17 minutes and 31 seconds to skate off with a 4-3 victory. For the Capitals, it was the first loss in five exhibition games.

The Blues scored the tying and go-ahead goals just 23 seconds apart in the second minute of the second period, exploiting some defensive breakdowns on Washington's part.

Dose Of Thunder - The Caps forged an early 2-0 lead in the first on goals from Travis Boyd and Carl Hagelin, with both shots coming from the right circle. Boyd and linemate Shane Gersich created a turnover in neutral ice, and Evgeny Kuznetsov sent Boyd into St. Louis ice with enough time and space to carry down to the right dot and line up a shot that beat Blues goalie Ville Husso.

Hagelin's goal came off a sublime cross-ice saucer pass from Lars Eller, who turned in two solid performances in his first two preseason games on this road trip.

Washington's final goal came just as a Caps power play expired, early in the third period. Mike Sgarbossa issued a perfect feed to the net for Chandler Stephenson, who chipped the puck over Husso to make it 4-3.

Boyd, Stephenson and Sgarbossa are among a handful of forwards on the bubble as the Caps prepare to cut down to their opening night roster, and all three had good Friday night performances.

I Bought A Headache - Washington trimmed six players from its camp squad early on Saturday morning, leaving the Caps with 28 players on the roster. Forwards Gersich, Beck Malenstyn and Brian Pinho defensemen Lucas Johansen and Colby Williams and goaltender Vitek Vanecek were loaned to AHL Hershey.

But the Caps will still have some gymnastics to perform ahead of Tuesday's deadline for finalizing opening night rosters.

Saturday's cuts leave the Caps with 28 players on their training camp roster - 16 forwards, nine defensemen, and three goaltenders. The Caps have until Tuesday afternoon to trim down to 23 or fewer players on their active roster, and to come into compliance with the NHL's $81.5 million upper limit for the 2019-20 season. Washington actually has a salary cap of $80.35 million for '19-20 because Brooks Orpik, Jonas Siegenthaler and Jakub Vrana combined to earn $1.15 million worth of performance bonuses last season, and those are charged to the following season's cap.

Caps center Evgeny Kuznetsov will serve a three-game NHL suspension at the outset of the season, and Michal Kempny is still rehabbing from offseason surgery. Kuznetsov won't be eligible to play until Oct. 8 when the Caps host Dallas, and Washington will benefit from some salary cap relief during his brief absence. Kempny has taken part in practices recently, but has yet to do so with a non-contact sweater. He is obviously getting close to returning, but isn't quite there yet.

Caps coach Todd Reirden adamantly says that the team won't rush Kempny back to live action and will make sure he is 100 percent good to go before he is in the lineup. The Caps could place Kempny on long term injured reserve, which would give them $2.5 million of salary cap relief for 24 days. The only way that would happen, however, is if Kempny has some sort of setback. Utilizing that option would force him to miss the first 13 games of the season, and he is almost certainly on target to return well before then. The Caps face a rugged early season schedule, and it's important for them to have the best lineup possible. Kempny is a critical part of that, as we saw last spring after he went down with a lower body injury.

On Saturday afternoon, Reirden ruled Kempny out of the team's final exhibition game on Sunday in Carolina, and stated that he also wouldn't play in the season opener in St. Louis on Wednesday.

Reirden also says it is highly unlikely that the Caps will open the season with three goaltenders on their roster. Assuming a goaltender is cut, an exemption for Kuznetsov, and Kempny is placed on injured reserve (but not long-term injured reserve), the Caps would then need to trim three skaters from their roster before departing for St. Louis on Tuesday. And there will certainly be more roster machinations once Kuznetsov and Kempny return.

None of those decisions will be made until after Sunday's game in Raleigh, and some could be delayed until Tuesday when the Caps practice at MedStar before departing for their season opening road trip to St. Louis and Long Island.

By The Numbers - Gersich, Eller, Sgarbossa and Stephenson led the Caps with three shots on net each … Eller led the Caps with six shot attempts … Dmitry Orlov and Brendan Leipsic led the Caps with two hits each … Orlov paced Washington with two blocked shots.

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