It couldn't have been a better preseason debut for Matt Hendricks as the veteran forward on a professional try-out with Washington netted a hat trick in the Capitals' 6-2 rout of the Columbus Blue Jackets Wednesday night.
"I'm glad I could contribute on the score sheet," said Hendricks, who had just nine goals in 60 games with the Colorado Avalanche the past two seasons. "It's not my primary role on a team, so any time that happens, it's great, but I'm obviously here for other reasons as well."
Hendricks wasn't the only player with something to prove this preseason who had a strong first showing. Second-line center leading candidate Tomas Fleischmann had three points (2G, 1A) and won six of the 10 faceoffs he took, while the trio of young centers vying for the third spot -- Marcus Johansson, Mathieu Perreault and Cody Eakin -- performed well under the pressure too.
Not to mention that goaltender Semyon Varlamov played a stellar 30 minutes, with 20 saves that included numerous attempts from point-blank range. Also, defenseman John Carlson had a nearly flawless start to the new year in what was a rather sloppy game for the Capitals defensively.
"You could tell it was a preseason game," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We had a tremendous amount of turnovers, I thought, in the first two periods, and gave them opportunities to score. We were a little ragged I thought in our zone sometimes, but the goaltending was there to back it up when we weren't very good."
Hendricks's first goal came on a nifty setup by Johansson, who set a nice drop pass at the last minute of a developing odd-man rush when it appeared Johansson would either shoot or send the puck across the ice to Andrew Gordon.
"I just heard him from behind and there was no one else there," Johansson said. "So I just dropped it for him instead of making the harder pass. He got a great shot, it was good."
Said Hendricks: "It was a great play by a young man. He played well, he made a lot of great plays out there. He plays with his head, plays with his head up. I think I just beat some back-checkers back, he was able to find me and Gordo went hard to the net."
While the win was a positive start to the preseason, it doesn't negate the fact that Columbus spent the first two periods outshooting the Capitals, 29-20.
"Coach asked about two things: he wants to win and he wants us to play good defensively," Fleischmann said. "I think he's happy with one thing, but defensively, stuff was really bad."
For those looking to the players fighting for those precious few spots on the opening-night roster to distance themselves from each other, well, it looks like we'll have to wait a few more days (and perhaps games) for those position battles to sort themselves out.