Team Blue was loaded with the Capitals' top three offensive lines and top two defensive pairs, yet it was Team Red who was victorious in Friday's intrasquad scrimmage. Daniel Sprong and Garnet Hathaway scored in the first period and Team Blue was held off the board until the final minute of the scrimmage when Travis Boyd got a piece of an Alex Ovechkin shot to deflect it past Braden Holtby. That would be Team Blue's lone goal of the game as Team Red managed to pull off the upset.
Here are four observations from the scrimmage.
The round robin may be a blessing
The result was certainly unexpected, but it does not really mean anything. If Team Blue had won 16-0, we all know that planning a Stanley Cup parade would still be premature. The opposite is true as well; just because they lost, it does not necessarily mean they are in trouble in the postseason. Team Red scored its first goal with a counter attack on the power play after Team Blue was caught up high. Is John Carlson going to get caught high because he joined a 2-on-1 break on a penalty kill in the playoffs? No, he's not. Will the team play better in an actual game? Yes, it will.
It's just a scrimmage so the result is not necessarily a bad thing...
...but it's not good either. Team Blue was loaded and played against roster that looked more suited for the AHL than the NHL, but could not muster more than one goal in a very sleep performance.
When the NHL announced its postseason format, I immediately felt that the Caps will be at a disadvantage in the first round because they are playing a team that just won a playoff series. While I still believe that is true, after watching the scrimmage, it is very clear that this team needs as many game reps as possible. A three-game round robin before the playoffs may prove beneficial.
Sprong is sprung
Daniel Sprong was the player of the game. He showed good speed, good hands and looked like a clear NHL player. He scored a goal in the first period that was called back for offsides and followed that up with a great set-up on Brian Pinho's goal.
When Boyd and Carlson got caught up ice on a shorthanded 2-on-1, Sprong and Pinho came in on the counter attack. Sprong took the puck behind the net and made a beautiful feed to Pinho who beat Vitek Vanecek for the first goal of the game.
Sprong scored two goals in the team's first scrimmage and looked good again on Friday that, in my mind, he established himself as more than just a depth player. This is a guy Todd Reirden may need to get into a game in the round robin or, if the lineup needs a shakeup, in the playoffs.
"I think he's done a good job," Reirden said, "He's worked hard and taken all the information keeping in mind this is his first real training camp with us or semblance of a training camp. He's done some good things and I continue to want to see him grow and get better with every aspect of the game, but taking advantage of his opportunity and that's what it's all about."
Holtby was smooth
It would be inaccurate to say Team Red's win was a product of Holtby standing on his head. He was not tested practically at all in the first period, but Team Blue woke up a bit in the second period and Holtby looked very smooth when called upon. Holtby always plays a very calm style, but there were times when he looked frazzled over the course of the regular season, the worst of his career. It was good to see how comfortable he looked in the scrimmage in turning aside all but one shot despite playing against a loaded Team Blue.
That Holtby played well is especially good news as Reirden said he tailored the scrimmage in large part as a test for Holtby.
"Today we purposefully put the lineup the way we did," Reirden said. "We wanted to give him a lot of action, let him stay in there the whole time and he was really solid. That was important. He was a large consideration in why today even occurred, to be quite candid. With a 4 o'clock game like this, it's a different situation for someone like himself. He's very routine, likes certain things at certain times. We did our meetings, we did everything from TV timeouts, we did it pretty much as detailed as we could to a game to prepare him."
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