The Capitals played their second and final scrimmage of training camp on Sunday with Team White defeating Team Red 3-1. Here are some notes from scrimmage as the team prepares for the start of the season on Thursday.
Shoot the puck, Kuznetsov
In the first period, a loose puck came out to the slot with Evgeny Kuznetsov all alone in front of Vitek Vanecek. He faked the slap shot, then tried to stickhandle, but ran out of room to get the shot off. He stickhandled the puck until it was eventually pushed out to the neutral zone and his team did not even get a shot on goal for what was a very good opportunity. Later in the first, Kuznetsov was on the breakaway, got fancy again and was chased down by Nicklas Backstrom on the backcheck. Two great opportunities for Kuznetsov resulted in zero shots on goal.
In the second period, however, Kuznetsov had another breakaway, cocked the stick back for a comically dramatic slap shot, but this time pulled the trigger and scored on Pheonix Copley.
Trying to be too pretty and not shooting has been an issue for Kuznetsov. Lesson learned?
It's Samsonov's net. After that...?
The one thing we know for certain about the goalie competition is what we've known all along. Ilya Samsonov is the No. 1. He played both periods of the game as the team prepares him for the start on Thursday. He allowed three goals in the second period on Sunday, but two were off deflections. He also comfortably stopped a breakaway opportunity for Martin Fehervary.
Head coach Peter Laviolette says he has liked Samsonov's development through camp.
"I actually think that he's gotten better as camp has gone on," Laviolette said. "The last couple days have probably been better than it was. When you don't get to train the way you want because of an injury through the course of the summer it makes it a little more difficult so I think his stamina has grown and he's looked a little bit stronger. We let him play the whole game tonight, a couple tough redirects on him tonight, a tip and a redirect that went funny into the net, but he made some big saves I thought as well too. So I think he's gotten stronger just from a physical standpoint as camp's gone on."
Vanecek, Craig Anderson and Pheonix Copley all split time for Team White.
Anderson was the best goalie of the day, showing marked improvement from Thursday's scrimmage in which he allowed three goals. He replaced Vanecek with about six minutes remaining in the first period and was immediately tested by Jakub Vrana. He then made two quick saves, stopping a stuff attempt by Shane Gersich followed by a wrister from Nic Dowd. He also had a breakaway save on Garrett Pilon.
This was an important bounceback for Anderson who did not particularly impress in the first scrimmage.
"Today was a lot better for him," Laviolette said. "Kind of like [Zdeno Chara], these are some veteran players that went into quarantine and came out and had to stay off the ice and last-minute decisions on where they were going to be. I think all of that throws a little bit of a wrinkle."
He added, "I think that he practiced and felt better after practice and I thought he was strong tonight in the net."
The breakouts have improved noticeably
Neutral zone turnovers became an unfortunate trademark of the Todd Reirden era as the Caps kept forcing long stretch passes through the neutral zone in the face of the forecheck to break the puck up ice. It has only been two scrimmages, but the team seems to be primarily breaking the puck up with short passes and speed and less with the stretch pass. This is a welcome improvement.
Washington's defense was its biggest weakness last year, but turnovers played a large part in that, especially neutral zone turnovers as the defense tried to pass through forecheckers to spring the forwards. It certainly seems like there will be less of that this year.
Laviolette is still concerned about turnovers
Having said all of that, Laviolette still wants the team to clean up on the turnovers.
"Tonight again it was an issue for me just turning the puck over," Laviolette said. "It's great to be creative, but it can't be at the expense of opposition coming the other way. That bugged me a little bit."