PHILADELPHIA – The Capitals improved to 2-0 in the preseason with a 4-3 shootout win over the Flyers on Monday night at Wells Fargo Center.
John Carlson, Joel Ward and Ryan Stoa each scored goals for Washington before AHL tough guy Joel Rechlicz won the contest with the only goal in the shootout. Perhaps that’s fitting considering the chippiness and fights that broke out as the teams combined for 50 penalty minutes. Four players were credited with fighting majors, but Rechlicz wasn’t one of them.
Five thoughts on the victory:
1. Oates rewards “Recker”: After Coach Adam Oates opted for Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr and Andre Burakovsky as the first three players in the shootout he decided to go the unconventional route. He asked Joel Rechlicz if he was any good at breakaways and the 6-4, 221-pound winger gave a quick yes before going out to beat Ray Emery with a nice backhander.
“He didn’t even bat an eye — it was like he expected it. Even after he scored it was like no big deal,” Oates said. “Or shock, I’m not sure.”
Oates saw it an opportunity to thank Rechlicz for the dirty work of fighting and defending his teammates. It’s also an example of Oates understanding how a team ticks, even in training camp and the preseason.
“He’s an unsung hero. All you ever hear about is he’s a great guy, he fights for his teammates, sticks up for everybody all the time and he did that a little bit in the second, he was ready,” Oates said. “I asked him today, ‘I’m not looking for you to fight, I’m looking for you to play hockey’ and he was great about it. …We’re all glad he scored. There’s not a lot of times that you get to thank a guy.”
As Rechlicz spoke to reporters, his teammates offered up some good-natured teasing and listened in on the interview. But that, like Oates putting him in the shootout didn’t faze him either.
“Just got lucky, I just had a little confidence and I just got lucky. It’s awesome,” said Rechlicz, who has 1,123 penalty minutes and three goals in his pro career. “I don’t think I could have pulled that off with a wooden stick but I just got lucky there.”
2. A challenger for Erskine: Flyers prospect Matt Mangene, who spent last year between the AHL and ECHL, decided in the third period that it would be a good idea to get in the face of John Erskine. When the two first crossed paths, the Capitals’ veteran blue-liner shook him away but later on in the same shift Erskine decided to engage the 24-year-old and landed several punches before Mangene could react.
“I lost my temper a little bit,” said Erskine, who later got tangled up with Wayne Simmonds a few times.
The scrap with Mangene, though, was an example of preseason hockey at work. A young player looking to make a name for himself challenging an established NHLer with a reputation for toughness and grit.
“Sometimes it’s a tough time for those guys because you get a tough kid on the other team, he wants to see how tough you are,” Oates said. “But, ‘I’m a proven vet. I don’t need to do that now, you do.’ That’s part of exhibition, it’s part of the process of the game.”
3. Erskine’s health and place in the lineup: The rugged defenseman’s biggest focus in the preseason is to get in shape and back to full strength. He had surgery on his left knee to alleviate what he recently described as a “lingering” issue during the offseason, which limited how and when he was able to prepare.
“My summer, I couldn’t train the way I wanted to. Now I’m starting to feel better. This is my time to get back into game shape,” Erskine said. “I think I need to get in the weight room and strengthen it.”
That will not impact his place in the lineup, though. Oates gave Erskine a strong, public vote of confidence following the game when asked if the top-four spot was the veteran blue-liner’s to lose.
“He’s not losing his job. He’s not,” Oates said. “It’s not even up for grabs. He’s top four on our team.”
4. Fehr at center: The first game test at center went better than Eric Fehr thought it would. It wasn’t perfect, certainly, but he was able to hold his own in the faceoff circle (winning 7 of 13 draws) and managed to keep track of his defensive assignments for the most part.
“Definitely had some ups and downs,” Fehr said. “I was better than I thought I’d be in the faceoff circle but I think after that, just trying to get organized, sorting out the play was a little bit more difficult for me.”
5. Neuvirth’s perfect outing. While there were a few occasions when Michal Neuvirth needed to make that cautious look to see if the puck had trickled behind him, the Capitals’ goaltender had a solid first preseason outing. Neuvirth stopped all of the 16 shots he faced in the first 30:26 of Monday’s contest before being relieved by David Leggio.
Neuvith’s toughest work of the night came late in his appearance when Sean Couturier had a point-blank chance in front, but he turned aside the shot with characteristic poise.
“I felt all right, still a few mistakes. I’ve got to do better,” Neuvirth said. “If I play good, I will get more games than I did last year. I’ve just got to focus on myself, to get each day better and stay healthy.”
The No. 1 job is Braden Holtby’s to lose at this point, but Neuvirth wants to remind everyone that he’s more than a backup in the NHL. How he approaches and works his way through this season to accomplish that will be interesting to watch.