Under Pressure - After Saturday night's 3-2 win over Carolina the Caps have played half of their six-game preseason slate. They've shaved a couple dozen names off the camp roster, and more trimmings are expected later on today. Washington has won all three games, taking each by the margin of a single goal.
Those three games haven't noticeably solved any of the team's roster or salary cap questions, and most of the team's veteran players has seen action in only one game to date. Of the 40 players on both sides who suited up on Saturday night, only about a dozen are locks for opening night roster berths, so neither team looked much like it will two weeks hence when Washington hosts the Hurricanes in its 2019-20 home opener.
But we might be seeing some glimpses of some of the changes coach Todd Reirden wants to see in his team's overall play this season. After an inauspicious start, the Caps settled into what was a dominant first period, and a pretty good first 40 minutes.
The Caps got into an early penalty pickle when Mike Sgarbossa was busted for slashing and Lucas Johansen for hi-sticking before the game was five minutes old, giving the Canes 45 seconds worth of two-man advantage time. Washington's penalty killing outfit was up to the task; it didn't permit as much as a shot on net.
Once the Caps survived that situation without incident, they went about the business of swarming the Hurricanes in their own end, forcing turnovers, buzzing the zone and making life miserable for Carolina defenders.
Twice, the Caps were able to shakedown Canes blueliner Fredrik Claesson for his lunch money and the puck, and twice they converted those miscues into unassisted goals. Liam O'Brien forced Claesson to give the disc up to Brett Leason, and the first-year pro ripped a wrist shot past the glove hand of Anton Forsberg at 6:44. Half a period later, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby's forecheking heat resulted in Claesson handing the puck to Brian Pinho, who backhanded it through the five-hole for a 2-0 Washington lead at 16:00.
Video: CAR@WSH: Pinho buries five-hole goal with backhand
"That was part of our game plan from the start," says Pinho. "Just to hound pucks and be aggressive, and to get pucks behind them and just kind of work them and grind them down low and use our speed."
Carolina didn't register its first shot on net until after the 10-minute mark, and the Canes had just four shots on net in the first frame, and those shots came from 60, 56, 48 and 43 feet out. In the second, the Canes managed only three shots. Each of those was a legitimate scoring chance, but there were none over the final nine-plus minutes of the middle period as Washington held Carolina without a shot on net for a span of 13 minutes and 17 seconds from midway through the second until early in the third.
Throughout training camp, Reirden has been preaching puck pressure and advocating an aggressive style of play. It was evident on Saturday night, to good effect.
"We want to play a fast, aggressive skating game - skating - all over the ice, be skating. And that's something that we've talked about, and both of those goals come off the pressure. Good job on the forecheck, and we're able to convert it with Leason scoring, and that's great to watch a young player convert from that spot there. And then you see it with the speed that Jonsson-Fjallby has to force that turnover there, and Pinho is able to convert on that as well.
"That was some of the good stuff. I thought the first period for sure was how we want to have that look. We really didn't give them much of an opportunity."
Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | September 21
The Long Cut - Sunday is an off day, but there is no off day for the grim reaper. Washington is expected to trim another nine or 10 players off its roster on Sunday. The Caps don't have another preseason game until Wednesday when they travel to Chicago, and AHL Hershey opens its own 2019 training camp on Monday.
Reading into Reirden's postgame comments, the Caps will still be practicing with two groups of players on Monday and Tuesday, and they'll be spending a good deal of those sessions diving deep into special teams work. But before they head out on the road to Chicago and St. Louis later in the week, they'll make another series of roster parings. It's not practical to bring 35 or so players on a preseason road trip.
"We're still going to be in two [groups]," says Reirden, "because we're going to be doing a little bit of special situation play on Monday and Tuesday, and then before we leave on the road, we'll go from there. So we'll still be in two groups still, but like I said, it's to work on some power play and penalty kill situations, both areas we want to improve on, and we felt it was important to spend full days on those at this time in camp.
"So we'll keep a few extra guys to be able to understand what's expected of them in both areas, if they're a part of that, and then make another [roster] adjustment going into our trip to Chicago."
Show Of Strength - Two players whose stock has risen this month are Pinho and goaltender Ilya Samsonov. Both were impressive at the Prospect Showcase in Nashville early in the month, and both have maintained that arc into camp and the preseason.
Pinho scored twice on Saturday - including a power-play goal - in his 2019 preseason debut, and Samsonov went the distance for his second win in as many exhibition appearances. He has permitted three goals in a game and a half, one on the power play and two off giveaways near the net.
While both are obviously pleased to be seen in a positive light, they realize all they can control is what they do on the ice.
"When it comes down to it," says Pinho, "I just want to work my tail off every day, just give it everything I have and bring a good attitude and a good mood to the rink every day, have fun with it, and hopefully it will take care of itself. But I think just working hard every day, keeping my head down and going to work."
Video: CAR@WSH: Pinho nets PPG for second tally
Samsonov spoke through a translator:
"It's my job to play. It's their job to evaluate me, so you have to ask them how I am doing. My job is to play hockey."
By The Numbers - Nick Jensen led the Caps with 21:15 in ice time … Radko Gudas, Carl Hagelin and Shane Gersich led the Caps with three shots on net each … Gudas, Hagelin and Christian Djoos led Washington with six shot attempts each … O'Brien led the Caps with four hits … Jonas Siegenthaler led the Capitals with five blocked shots … Travis Boyd won 11 of 17 face-offs (65 percent) … Washington blocked more shots (17) than Carolina put on net (15), and Canes missed the net more times (18) than not as well.