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What we learned from the Capitals' preseason

What we learned from the Capitals' preseason

The preseason is (mercifully) over. After a 4-3 win over the St. Louis Blues on Sunday, the next time the Capitals take the ice it will be for the regular season opener on Thursday in Ottawa.

With only two wins in seven preseason contests, there are some nervous Caps fans in Washington. But all preseason results should be taken with a grain of salt, especially the records. The Colorado Avalanche won six of their preseason games last year and finished the regular season as, by far, the worst team in the NHL.

RELATED: OVECHKIN NAMED THE FAVORITE TO WIN THE ROCKET RICHARD

That doesn't mean that everything that happens in the preseason is irrelevant, however. Here are some things that we did learn from the Caps' preseason:

The defense is in trouble

The Caps scored only 12 goals in seven preseason games, but it’s too early to worry about the offense. Players like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky are going to show up when the games start to matter. The same cannot be said for the defense, howeer.

Heading into the preseason, the Caps defense looked approximately like this:

Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
??? - John Carlson
Brooks Orpik - ???
Taylor Chorney

The hope was that enough players would distinguish themselves in the preseason to fill out the roster. The competition has been whittled down to Aaron Ness, Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey, but really none of those players have “wowed.” Bowey has played fairly well, but Ness and Djoos have both struggled. Both players would have to pass through waivers if the Caps choose to send them to the AHL and whether the team would risk losing either player remains to be seen, but the fact that it is even a matter of discussion is not a good sign.

After trying several different players alongside Carlson, Orpik was moved into the top four for the final preseason game which is an indication of just how dissatisfied Barry Trotz has been with what he’s seen.

Heading into the preseason the Caps were in need of a top-four defenseman and the third pairing looked like a major quesetion mark. Now that the prseason is over, the Caps look like they are in need of a top-four defenseman and the third pairing looks like a major quesetion mark.

Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom will be split

Lines change frequently in the preseason, but one thing that has been consistent is that Ovechkin and Backstrom have not been playing on the same line. Even with the offense was struggling, Trotz did not move these two back together. That doesn’t mean they will never play on the same line this season, but at least to start you will see Backstrom centering a line without the Great 8 on the wing.

Tom Wilson needs to dial it back

Wilson was assessed a five-minute major and game misconduct for a hit he delivered to Samuel Blais on Sunday in his second game after returning from a two-game suspension. Wilson was suspended for a hit he delivered to St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas in an earlier preseason contest. Following the league’s decision, Wilson stated that he would not change his game.

Well, he needs to.

While the initial suspension was for only two preseason games, it was still significant in that he will now be considered a repeat offender by the league.
The Capitals need Wilson to produce more offensively this season and that’s hard to do if he is in the penalty box or serving a suspension. If it wants to remain a physical player, fine, but he has to be more careful. He is not going to get the benefit of the doubt from referees or the Department of Player Safety.

Whether Wilson gets another call from the Department of Player Safety for Sunday's hit remains to be seen, but the fact that he could not even get out of the preseason without a suspension and an ejection should be a signal to him that he needs to reel it in.

MORE CAPITALS: RINKSIDE REPORT: A SLOW PRESEASON FOR THE CAPS

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Caps work on team building by fighting each other in FBI training

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@Capitals Twitter

Caps work on team building by fighting each other in FBI training

How much better would your work environment be if you had a chance to pin a coworker or get them in a chokehold? Probably a lot. That's what the Caps are banking on.

The team visited the FBI Academy on Wednesday in a team building exercise that included raming doors and, of course, hand to hand combat.

Let's break down some of these wrestling matchups.

Braden Holtby appears to be thanking John Carlson for playing 27:33 on Tuesday.

It seems dangerous to pit a goalie against a defenseman. Carlson spends all of his time on the ice trying to protect Holtby. Just how hard was Carlson really trying to take down Holtby?

It's no surprise seeing Tom Wilson enjoying himself with the hand to hand combat. Whoever went up against him (it looks like Jay Beagle) certainly drew the short straw.

And then there's this.

Nicklas Backstrom is having way, way too much fun. Maybe Andre Burakovsky was getting a bit chesty in the locker room after his first NHL fight. Well, it seems Backstrom certainly put him in his place.

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There are no moral victories, but Caps see a defensive effort they can build on in Tuesday's loss

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USA TODAY Sports

There are no moral victories, but Caps see a defensive effort they can build on in Tuesday's loss

The Capitals probably deserved a better result on Tuesday than a 2-0 loss at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Coming into that game, the Leafs were averaging 5.20 goals per game and had scored no fewer than three in any of their five games to start the season. Yet, a Capitals team fresh off an 8-2 loss against the Philadelphia Flyers managed to hold Toronto’s offense to only one goal, the second coming only after Braden Holtby had been pulled for the extra attacker.

“There's a lot of improvements from our game in Philadelphia, that's for sure,” Barry Trotz said following the game.

Aside from a flurry of chances from Toronto early in the first, the game was largely even between the two sides until Connor Brown put the Leafs up 1-0 in the third period.

RELATED: EVGENY KUZNETSOV COULD HAVE CHANGED TUESDAY'S GAME, HERE'S HOW

Despite their effort, however, do not take this game as proof that Washington has solved all of its blue line issues. Tuesday was just merely a step in the right direction.

“We did some things better [Tuesday],” Braden Holtby said. “The outcome could have been a little worse if luck wasn't on our side today on a few plays. We've got to keep a realistic mindset on that too.  But we did a lot of good things [Tuesday]. Our defense did a really good job at handling their speed and their size.”

Surprisingly, it was not the defense that cost Washington the game, but the offense. When the Caps needed a goal, they simply could not generate one against goalie Frederik Andersen.

Yes, the team needs to find more of a balance and get a full 60-minute effort on both ends of the ice, but there was also hope in the locker room on Tuesday that if they continue to improve in their own zone, it will ultimately lead to more offense in the other end.

“Everything is developed from the defensive zone,” Holtby said. “That's the way we've always had success scoring goals. If you're taking risks offensively, that's not a consistent way to play. You might win some games, but you're not going to win games consistently. That's what our foundation of our team is built around, our breakout, especially on our goal line and that what creates a lot of our offense.”

MORE CAPITALS: WHO STOOD OUT IN TUESDAY'S DEFENSIVE BATTLE?

What the first seven games of the season has shown is that the Capitals’ fate rests on its blue line. Yes, they need more depth scoring from their third and fourth line, but this team’s weakness is its defense. How they respond to their early struggles will determine the fate of the season.

“We'd be kidding ourselves if we're not going to have some growing pains along the way,” Holtby said of the team. “It's just how we handle them and what we do with them. How do we fight through them and get better?”

Tuesday’s game may have ended in a loss, but it was an effort the defense can build around. That is the silver lining. If they do build on this game, the Capitals still have a playoff caliber roster. If they do not, well, there is no telling how far Washington can sink.