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Caps finish preseason on high note, cut three players, Stephenson has statement game, more

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps /

Wrap It Up - The Caps concluded their six-game preseason slate with a 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh on Sunday afternoon. Washington won five of six preseason games, coming from behind in three of them, winning one in overtime, and taking four of the five by the margin of a single goal.

The Caps made some Monday morning roster moves, placing a trio of players - defenseman Christian Djoos and forwards Liam O'Brien and Michael Sgarbossa - on waivers with the intention of loaning them to AHL Hershey if they clear.

Those moves leave Washington with 25 rostered players: 14 forwards, eight defensemen and three goaltenders. With Evgeny Kuznetsov set to serve a three-game NHL suspension at the start of the season, the Caps could get down to the 23-player limit simply by placing defenseman Michal Kempny - still in the late stages of rehabbing from offseason surgery - on injured reserve, and by moving a goaltender off the roster, almost certainly either Pheonix Copley or Ilya Samsonov.

Caps coach Todd Reirden noted days ago that it would be "highly unlikely" that Washington would open the season with three goalies.

Rough Justice - Sunday's finale didn't resemble any of the Caps' five previous preseason outings. Both sides were finishing checks and taking liberties, and the house was packed on a football Sunday, mostly because tickets were free.

Carolina took a raft of penalties in the early part of the second period, getting whistled for four minors in less than three minutes. Those four calls included a slashing, a hi-sticking and an illegal check to the head penalty. Late in the frame, Washington winger Tom Wilson incurred an unsportsmanlike conduct minor and was then assessed an additional 10-minute misconduct penalty after a Carolina coach yipped at him from behind the wall of Hurricanes players seated on the bench.

The Caps and Canes met once previously this preseason, doing so without most of the extracurricular hijinks, but that's probably because both sides dressed relative few regulars for that Sept. 21 contest. Sunday's game featured plenty of prime time players for both sides, and they were clashing for the first time in just over five months, since the Canes ousted the Caps in double overtime of Game 7 of their first-round playoff series.

While Sunday's game was certainly an outlier as far as modern preseason hockey goes, it may also serve as a perfect final tune-up for the regular season, which gets underway on Wednesday.

Video: Postgame | September 29

"Yeah, I think it was good," says Wilson. "Obviously you guys felt the emotion and the atmosphere; it was pretty good for a preseason game. A pretty full building, and that's always nice to play in front of, especially in preseason, to close it out and get us ready for the real deal."

"Whenever you give out free tickets, a lot of people show up," observes T.J. Oshie. "So it felt a little more like a playoff atmosphere, I guess here. I think it's good for us. It's good for us to get in those high intensity, high emotional games, and to find ways to battle through that and find a way to get a win. [The Canes] obviously kept coming and coming, no matter how big or tight the lead was, and we were able to hold them off. So that's a good sign moving forward."

Statement Game - Caps forward Chandler Stephenson came into camp on the heels of a frustrating 2018-19 season, and as one of several players on the bubble and in a battle for fourth line/spare forward roster spots on the team. When Lars Eller (personal reasons) was a late scratch for Sunday's game, Stephenson was bumped up the lineup and into the second line center role that Eller was to fill.

He took full advantage of the situation.

"Yeah he did," says Reirden. "He had a strong game, and that's what we were looking for. We had three center men in there that are competing, and that's how it played out for us tonight."

Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | September 29

Stephenson's linemates - Oshie and Jakub Vrana - each scored twice, and Stephenson had a pair of primary helpers. Stephenson also led Caps centers with 19:33 in ice time and led all Washington forwards with 4:28 in shorthanded ice time.

"He seemed like the best player on the ice tonight, in my opinion," says Oshie. "He was skating everywhere, he was getting the job done on the PK. On our line, he was controlling the puck for the most part and winning all of the races. He made a great play - obviously - on my goal and on one of [Vrana's] goals there. I thought he was the best one out there on both sides."

That Sunday showing finished off a strong camp for Stephenson and will make it difficult for the Caps to cut him based on performance.

"My mindset for camp and this summer was just to try to forget about last year," says Stephenson. "It was a frustrating year for myself, and something I just want to leave in the past. Moving forward, I just want to have fun, just get back to playing my kind of hockey and smiling when I do it."

The Caps will have some difficult roster decisions to make in the days ahead, but Stephenson controlled what he could control, which is all a player can do.

"I tried to do everything I could," says Stephenson. "I want to be here. Washington is the only place that I know, and it's an awesome group of guys. I have nothing but the utmost respect for every single one of them. It's obviously the place I want to be."

By The Numbers - Jonas Siegenthaler led the Caps with 20:23 in ice time … Oshie, Vrana and Nick Jensen led the Caps with three shots on net each … Vrana led the Caps with six shot attempts … Garnet Hathaway led Washington with six hits … Siegenthaler paced the Caps with five blocked shots.

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