The Capitals concluded their seven-game preseason with an impressive 6-2 beat-down of the New York Islanders on Sunday night, giving them a near-perfect 5-0-2 record in the exhibition season. The Detroit Red Wings (6-0-2) and Anaheim Ducks (5-0-1) were the only other NHL teams to go without a regulation loss in the preseason.
“There’s always things to work on and do better,” Capitals defenseman John Carlson said after recording a goal and three assists in the preseason finale. “Obviously, you don’t want to go out there and have a stinker of a preseason (the Islanders were 2-6-0), but you want to make sure you’re feeling the best you can.
“We put a big emphasis on practices over the last year and we have to build on that now. That starts in the preseason. We all came into camp prepared and ready to go and hopefully that translates into a good start.”
With the Caps’ preseason behind us, here are five things we learned over the past three weeks:
1. Alex Ovechkin can still score. Ovechkin turned 30 the day before training camp and looked winded (like just about everyone other than Jay Beagle) following Barry Trotz’s grueling fitness skate, but he was money in five preseason games, scoring a team-high five goals in five games. At that pace, Ovechkin would reach the 500-goal milestone (he’s 25 away) by early December. It’s hard to imagine the five-time Rocket Richard winner slowing down, especially with the additions of T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams to the Caps’ top six forward group.
2. The Caps’ power play will be lethal. There were concerns with the departure of Mike Green that the Caps’ power play, ranked No. 1 in the NHL in each of the last three seasons, would suffer a setback this season. But after Sunday night’s 3-for-4 performance it looks like the Caps may be even better on the man-advantage. With T.J. Oshie drawing attention in the slot and Evgeny Kuznetsov looking every bit as good as Nicklas Backstrom from the halfwall, the Caps simply have too many weapons for teams to overload against Ovechkin. You may not see Ovechkin lead the NHL with 25 power-play goals, but if that offense is spread out, the Caps will be extremely dangerous.
3. Bad moons rising. The Caps’ skill level among the top six forward positions was dramatically improved with the additions of Oshie and Williams, but a potential third line of Jay Beagle between Tom Wilson and Jason Chimera (or Andre Burakovsky when Backstrom returns) could be a handful to defend. Beagle is skating, shooting and defending like a true checking-line center and Wilson is capable of scoring 15 goals if he sees quality ice time, especially if Burakovsky falls to that line.
4. The third defense pairing bears watching. If there is a big question mark heading into the season it is the development of the Caps’ third defense pairing, where Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt are trying to prove they can be trusted in their own zone. Both players can make a hard, accurate outlet pass and both can join the rush. But with Orlov still trying to make real-time decisions, the first month could have Barry Trotz reaching for the Rolaids.
5. Play defense when 3-on-3. Trotz tried quite a few different combinations in the new 3-on-3 overtime format during the preseason and it won’t be a big surprise if he takes a conservative approach in the regular season, possibly starting overtimes with one forward and two defensemen. The Caps have no reservations going to a shootout, especially with skilled forwards like Kuznetsov, Oshie and Backstrom ready to win it before even getting to Ovechkin.