Blue Collar - Washington dressed a youthful group of defensemen for Wednesday's 6-0 win over the Blackhawks in Chicago; only John Carlson (688 career NHL games) spent all of last season in the NHL. All 26 of Jonas Siegenthaler's NHL games came last season, as did both of Tyler Lewington's two games of NHL experience. Martin Fehervary, Lucas Johansen and Colby Williams have yet to play in the league during the regular season.
Chicago's lineup included star forwards such as Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews, but the young Caps defense held their own. They bent some - particularly in the first half of the second period when Chicago generated 10 of its 22 shots on goal in the game - but they didn't break, and goaltenders Pheonix Copley (in particular) and Braden Holtby were both spotless behind them.
"We talked about it after the second," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "I'm really proud of our guys in an exhibition game, paying the price and blocking shots. But we made it far too hard on ourselves. We could come out of our own zone a little cleaner. With that being said, if you're not going to do that, then you've got to pay the price and stick together as a team, and we had lots of different guys contributing to block shots. But I think the young [defense] for the most part - with just John back there in terms of [having] a ton of NHL experience - did a good job, and everyone in their own regards were able to make our decisions difficult for us in the next few days here."
Carlson had a goal and an assist and Williams had a pair of assists as the defense also contributed to the Caps' attack.
Video: WSH@CHI: Carlson fires home slap shot from the point
Chicago went 0-for-4 on the power play, and Washington limited the Hawks to just four shots on net in eight minutes with the extra man. All six defensemen saw significant duty on the penalty killing unit, with Siegenthaler (4:00) and Fehervary (3:41) handling the lion's share of those tough minutes.
Lewington spent 19 minutes in the penalty box and still managed to log 15:21 on the night, as the overall workload was spread fairly evenly. Johansen led all Caps in ice time with 21:47, as he saw action for the third time in four games this fall.
Early Wednesday afternoon - before the game against the Hawks - Reirden spoke at length of Johansen's progress in this year's training camp.
"To me, I think he has had a much better camp this year than he has in the past, and particularly I would say last year," says Reirden. "But prior to that, he had shown some things early on. He had a tough year with injury and stuff last year, and his puck movement and his quick exiting the zone cleanly is something that he has shown us, and his ability to be able to manage the game.
"I think a lot of times as a young defenseman that has a high offensive ceiling and put up a quite a few points in junior, they expect to get that at the next level and it's not that easy. So you have to make sure that you become dependable to your coach and to your partner and to your team, and be used in situations that maybe aren't set up for offense, but more important for him to have solid shifts at five-on-five. I think he has done a little bit better job of that this year.
"We'll see more of that tonight, especially being on the road with them getting last change, he will play against some quality players. We'll continue to evaluate him, but definitely an opportunity for him as someone who has a lot of potential and has gone through a tough year. So far, I think he is off to a good start so far this year with how he has progressed with us."
There are still 11 defensemen on the Washington roster, and Michal Kempny is still rehabbing from offseason surgery and hasn't played yet in the preseason. The Caps have leaned toward defensemen in recent drafts, and they're starting to see the payoff in terms of organizational depth at the position.
"I said it at the beginning of camp," says Carlson. "I said that we've got over 10 viable NHL players right now on [defense] alone. I think there are going to be some special players out of that group. But at the same time, credit to them because it is early for some of them, and for some of them it's right on time. But I think they all have great assets, they're just getting better and better, and they'll be great players."
Chicago Cops - In his first game action in more than a week, Copley was strong in net. He finished with a flourish, making eight saves in less than five minutes at the end of his stint, many of them on high grade scoring chances from in close. His final stop of the night - on Hawks defenseman Erik Gustafsson - was likely his best.
Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | September 25
"That was a fitting end for him," says Reirden of Copley. "No one really works much harder than this player or takes his trade more serious. He obviously knows he is in a heated competition here. He knew that this would be probably his last chance to show his stuff, and he did for that first half, and kept us in the game in particular in the second period where they started to tilt the ice a little bit on us."
Sometime To Return - Caps center Lars Eller saw his first action of the preseason; he missed some of camp with a minor ailment last week. Centering for Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie - a line we're likely to see early in the regular season while Evgeny Kuznetsov is serving his three-game NHL suspension - Eller had two goals and an assist, was a plus-4, split his 20 face-offs, and skated 16:51 on the night
"I liked the look of [the line] with Lars," says Reirden. "Lars had a strong game playing with Vrana and Oshie, and that's something that we're looking at doing to start the year for sure, and I thought that was as strong showing from that line."
Seeing game action for the first time since May, Eller showed no lingering effects from the layoff or from his injury.
"It felt really good," says Eller. "It's been many months since I played a real game, so it felt really good to be back with the guys.
"The biggest thing is getting the pace into the legs and getting used to thinking really fast again. So the lungs aren't quite there, but it will come. I'm not worried about that. Overall, it felt really good for the first game."
Video: Postgame Locker Room | September 25
By The Numbers - Alex Ovechkin led the Caps with four shots on goal … Ovechkin, Eller, Carlson, Tom Wilson and Liam O'Brien each had four shot attempts to lead Washington … Garnet Hathaway led the Caps with five hits … Nic Dowd led the Caps with four blocked shots.