The Caps dressed a young defense for their preseason home opener and the St. Louis Blues took advantage. The Blues scored twice in a 39-second stretch in the first period and rode that to a 4-0 win over Washington on Friday.
Here is who stood out:
Mathias Bau: Bau was a player to watch coming into this game because of his size (6-foot-7). He was not supposed to play in the preseason, but his play in camp caught Barry Trotz's notice which led to him dressing on Friday. He quickly showed he was more than just a gigantic human. Bau set linemate Tyler Graovac up twice with great feed passes that could easily have turned into goals. He is a better skater and stick-handler than you would expect for someone of his size. He certainly will not make the Caps roster, but he has shown he is someone the team should keep an eye on in Hershey.
Tyler Graovac: Centering the fourth line, Graovac was the Caps’ best offensive player on the night. He showed good speed and drove the net very well, generating the team's best scoring opportunities. He finished the game with a team-high four shots on goal.
Lars Eller: Eller was one of the few veterans who took advantage of playing against youngsters. He had a strong night offensively and on the penalty kill with three shots on goal and five total shot attempts.
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The defense: It was a very rough night collectively for the Capitals’ blue line. With a defensive lineup that featured only two players from last year’s NHL squad, John Carlson and Taylor Chorney, Washington looked completely overmatched by a youthful St. Louis squad in the defensive zone. Apart from a few good hits from Tyler Lewington, none of the defensive prospects fighting for a roster spot did anything to help their stock at all.
Anthony Peluso: Given the level of competition, Peluso should have been able to contribute more than two shot attempts and two penalties. The days of the enforcer are over. Players need to be able to do more than just drop the gloves. Peluso looks to be Washington’s response to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ acquisition of Ryan Reaves, but he needs to show he can provide the Caps with something other than just fists. The fact that he could not do that against a non-NHL roster is a bad sign.
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Lars Eller did not practice on Monday, and coach Barry Trotz shuffled his injury-depleted defense corps.
Here’s how everyone lined up:
Burakovsky – Backstrom – Oshie
Ovechkin – Kuznetsov – Vrana
Connolly – Graovac – Wilson
Smith-Pelly – Beagle – Chiasson
Orpik – Bowey
Djoos – Carlson
Orlov – Chorney
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Some notes, quotes and observations from KCI:
- Trotz said Eller showed up sick and was sent home to recover and avoid spreading whatever he’s got. Trotz also isn’t sure whether the veteran center will be able to suit up against Toronto on Tuesday. “I don’t know,” he said. “I can’t answer that right now. We’ll see where his energy level is.”
- The coaching staff shuffled the D-pairs with speedy Toronto coming to town. But Trotz also cautioned not to read too much into the tandems, since they’re likely to change throughout Tuesday’s game. Trotz even hinted that a final decision on which six D-men will suit up had not yet been made. “They’re going to be shuffled from now until we get people back,” Trotz said, referring to the injured Matt Niskanen, who is week-to-week with an upper body injury. “There are pairs for practice. There are pairs for parts of games. It’ll be a little bit situational.”
- If defenseman Taylor Chorney does get back into the lineup, he knows that he needs to make a positive impression after sitting out the last three games as a healthy scratch. “I’ve been through this quite a bit over the last couple of years, but at the same time you probably want to make a little bit of a statement,” he acknowledged. “So for me, if I do get the opportunity to play, it would be a big game.”
- Speaking of the Leafs, they’re off to a 4-1-0 start with Auston Matthews (5 goals, including two OT winners) leading the way. Overall, Toronto is averaging a league-leading 5.2 goals per game. As you might imagine, Trotz had a lot of praise for last season’s first round opponent in general and Matthews specifically. “If he was playing 20 years ago, we’d be saying he’s Mario Lemieux-like,” Trotz said. “He’s six-foot-[three]. He skates great. He’s got unbelievable hands. And a hockey I.Q. and he’s strong on the puck.”
- As Washington attempts to turn the page from Saturday’s 8-2 clunker in Philly, Trotz said one area he’d like to see shored up is the number of shots the Caps have been allowing. Through six games, they’re yielding 34.5 shots on goal per game (tied for ninth most). Last year, they allowed 27.8 (fourth best). “We’re not as structured defensively,” Trotz said. “We haven’t put as big an emphasis this year as we did last year. We’ve put a little more emphasis on trying to replace some of the goals that we lost. But right now we have to get a little more balance. …We have to get that back into balance; we practiced some of that today.”
- As you may remember, Madison Bowey’s father, Will, jumped on the first flight out of British Columbia that he could find in the hopes of catching his son’s NHL debut Saturday night at Wells Fargo Center. As it turned out, though, he experienced a couple of travel delays and didn’t make it. Dad will, however, be in attendance Tuesday night.
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Nicklas Backstrom has been the Capitals’ best player so far this season, according to coach Barry Trotz. And he was recognized for his play on Monday when the NHL named him third star of the week.
No one had more points over the past week than the Caps’ star center, who racked up three goals and six assists in four games.
Trotz praised Backstrom for his point production — and his play on the other side of the puck.
“He’s been really good,” Trotz said. “Nick has been all business. He’s playing very well. He’s been our best player, no question, with balance in his game. Nick’s balance in his game is really good—on my soap box again—and that’s what makes him one of the best two-way centermen in the National Hockey League. ”
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Last season, Backstrom didn’t get his third goal until the 16th game (en route to a 23-goal campaign). In six games this season, the 29-year-old has three goals and eight helpers.
First star of the week was Winnipeg winger Nikolaj Ehlers (five goals, two assists), while Toronto center Auston Matthews (four goals, including two OT winners) received second star honors.
On Tuesday at Capital One Arena, it’ll be second star versus third star as Matthews and the Leafs take on on Backstrom’s Caps.
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