Saturday's game marks Washington's only game in a span of six nights. In the week ahead, the Caps will take to the road for a trio of exhibitions against the same three teams they hosted this week: Chicago, St. Louis and Carolina. The Caps open the 2019-20 regular season in St. Louis on Oct. 2, and they host the Canes two weeks from tonight at Capital One Arena in the season's home opener.
In The Middle Of It All - Saturday marks the ninth day of Washington's 19-day training camp. The Caps made a series of roster trims on Thursday, and with AHL Hershey slated to open its own 2019 training camp on Monday, it's extremely likely that the Caps will make more cuts to the roster on Sunday.
The group playing against Carolina took part in a morning skate on Saturday, and afterwards, the rest of the healthy Caps took the ice for a practice/scrimmage.
"We'll have to see how tonight's game goes," says Caps coach Todd Reirden, "but we are planning on making some adjustments to the lineup [Sunday] again, but the number and who it is is going to be based on tonight's game and even some of [Saturday] afternoon's practice, a little bit of an intrasquad scrimmage that we're doing. It's a controlled scrimmage today - no referees. But I wanted to continue to evaluate guys that way."
Second Look - Defenseman Lucas Johansen was Washington's first-round pick (28th overall) in the 2016 NHL Draft. This is Johansen's fourth training camp with the Caps, and he is now heading into the final season of his entry level deal, so the time is near for Washington to determine what they've got in the personable 21-year-old from Vancouver.
Johansen's trajectory started strong when he led all Hershey rookies in scoring with 27 points (six goals, 21 assists) in 2017-18. Last season, the Bears got off to dreadful start, and for Johansen, it was even more dreadful because of a November injury that took him out of the lineup for two and a half months. He finished the '18-19 season with three goals and 14 points in 45 games.
Johansen saw action in the Caps' preseason opener on Monday against Chicago, and he will get his second look tonight against the Canes.
Video: Todd Reirden | September 21
"I think this is an important game for Lucas," says Reirden. "It will be good to see how it plays itself out now that he has gone through some adversity with an injury last year, and eventually getting him where he is really competing for that job to stay here."
Johansen will be playing alongside Colby Williams, who is seeing his first preseason action. Johansen logged 19:07 in that game, finishing at plus-1 with a blocked shot.
"In the first game, you're just kind of getting the timing back," says Johansen. "It's hard to simulate breaking out pucks against five players in the summer, so that's something that I'm really focused on tonight. And other than that, just keeping my compete level up, try to get in on guys and defend well, and get the pucks into our forwards' hands. But most importantly, I'm looking forward to trying to break out pucks better tonight."
Carolina is a team that likes to get in on the forecheck, so showing the ability to break out pucks against the Canes should help Johansen's bid to impress the brass. If not for last season's injury, he might have had a chance to make his NHL debut at some point in 2018-19.
Cracking the Caps' opening night roster won't be an easy task for Johansen, but the Caps still have high hopes of him developing into a top four defender. A few strong preseason showings could move him higher on the list of potential recalls during the 2019-20 campaign.
"I had a really good summer and worked with a lot of good people in ensuring that I'm going to play a harder style of game this year," says Johansen. "I'm going to defend better, I'm going to compete as hard as I can. I think if I have that foundation, I know that the rest will take care of itself. So every day, that's my mindset, to try and compete as hard as I can and try to earn as many exhibition games as I can."
Video: Rinkside Update | Lucas Johansen
At the time of his injury last season, Johansen had totaled nine points (one goal, eight assists) in 17 games, a better offensive pace than he was able to manage as a first-year pro the year before. The points will come by virtue of those good first passes, but now the Caps want to see him advance his game in his own end of the ice, in terms of defending more consistently.
"Tonight is an important game for him," says Reirden. "He has got to continue to improve and get better, and show comfort defending against bigger guys - being able to play in the defensive zone and take away time and space with a good reach.
"We want him to transition the puck at a high level and a high success rate, we want him to support the rush because he can skate well, and then be able to add to some of our offensive things by using him on the power play here the last couple of games."
In The Nets - Washington is expected to go with Ilya Samsonov in net on Saturday against the Canes, and he is expected to go the distance in his second outing of the preseason. Samsonov came on in relief of Vitek Vanecek on Wednesday against St. Louis, and he picked up the win when the Caps rallied for two goals in the game's final minute to earn a 3-2 victory. Samsonov made 12 stops on 13 shots in just under 30 minutes of work.
"Now we get a chance to see him start a game and see the whole game through," says Reirden. "I think it's a good challenge for him tonight; we have a pretty young lineup in there. I think just the composure and some of the things he has shown in his growth in Hershey will be on display tonight. This was the challenge and the opportunity that he wanted, so let's see how he does with it."
After his relief effort against St. Louis on Wednesday, Reirden praised Samosonov's "presence." On Saturday morning, the bench bo0ss expanded on his definition of that term.
"His physical attributes are obvious," says Reirden, "but just in the net he has a calming influence to him. I think that's something that you can't really teach goaltenders, and it's not something they can fake. He looks extremely comfortable and he is going to be an NHL goalie. It's just [a matter of] when is he going to be that goalie, and what's the right timing for it?
"Certain guys have that, that are forwards and defensemen, but goalies in particular have this ability to really calm down a situation, and I think that's a very underrated quality of a goaltender."
Carolina brings goaltenders James Reimer and Anton Forsberg to the District for Saturday's game against the Capitals. That tandem combined to backstop the Hurricanes to a 2-0 victory over Tampa Bay in their preseason opener on Tuesday. It was a light night's work for the Carolina duo; they faced only 15 shots. Reimer stopped eight and Forsberg seven as the two each played roughly 30 minutes.
The next goal the Canes allow in the preseason will be the first. Two different netminders - Petr Mrazek and Alex Nedeljkovic - combined to blank the Bolts again on 21 shots the very next night.
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Caps and Canes to look when they take the ice for Saturday's home exhibition finale at Capital One Arena:
Video: Two-Man Advantage | September 21
62-Hagelin, 72-Boyd, 14-Panik
63-Gersich, 92-Kuznetsov, 21-Hathaway
87-O'Brien, 23-Sgarbossa, 49-Leason
45-Jonsson-Fjallby, 40-Pilon, 64-Pinho
23-McGinn, 71-Wallmark, 44-Gauthier
78-Lorentz, 61-Suzuki, 92-Markison
59-Kuokkanen, 45-Geekie, 88-Necas
93-Shinkaruk, 43-Luostarinen, 29-Gibbons