Five thoughts on the Capitals’ 4-3 overtime loss to the Blackhawks

September 29, 2013

Another busy night for Braden Holtby. (Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press)

The Capitals closed out their exhibition slate with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center Saturday night that dropped their preseason record to 4-0-4.

When the two teams face off again in three days at the Madhouse on Madison, though, it will actually count for something. Neither the Capitals (Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, etc) nor Blackhawks (Corey Crawford, Brent Seabrook, etc) used their full lineup tonight but it was a game the defending Stanley Cup champions dictated.

Washington never led in the contest, was outshot, 35-15, and while the Blackhawks looked up to full speed, the visitors weren’t quite at that level.

1. That’s all folks. The preseason finale was the first time that Coach Adam Oates delved into critiquing the way the Capitals played the game. It’s a reflection of how close they are to the games finally meaning something and the fact that they had a rather veteran heavy squad on the ice.

This was the first of the Capitals eight preseason games that had the tempo of a regular season contest and on this night that had more to do with Chicago’s play than their own.

“We were a little bit behind tonight I thought, a little slow. We turned it over too much. They’re a very good hockey team playing in their own barn their last game, [we were] maybe a little tired too,” Oates said. “We just turned the puck over too many times. Puck on our stick didn’t make good decisions with it and they just preyed on us and really took it to us.”

While it wasn’t an accurate illustration of what to expect on Tuesday given the notable absences, it will be interesting to see if Washington’s full lineup can handle the combined speed, skill and physicality that the Blackhawks bring.

2. Johansson’s close call. With 3:27 remaining in the first period John Carlson fired a shot from the top of the left circle that somehow found its way to the right corner, where Marcus Johansson was set on the play. Luckily, he saw the puck at the last minute and was able to turn his head.

“I was just trying to go behind the net and it hit me in the back of the head,” Johansson said. “I think I was just a little shocked at first.”

The shot didn’t cause any significant harm to Johansson, who later scored a nice goal off the rush in the third period. Chalk this one up to another would-be scary injury avoided by the Capitals in the preseason.

3. Holtby’s workload. In both of the full games goaltender Braden Holtby played in this season he saw a large number of shots. He faced 35 Saturday night from Chicago after the Bruins fired 38 in his direction earlier in the week. While it can help Holtby  prepare for the regular season and he handled the barrage well again Saturday, Oates would have liked to see it be a little more manageable.

“I wish it wasn’t so much,” Oates said. “I expected better tonight in terms of shots and the amount of effort he was going to have to shell out.”

Holtby said his biggest challenge in Chicago was that the building became warmer than he expected, making it a more draining experience.

“It was a little hot in the building. I’m not used to that, getting accustomed to that again so it was a little tiring towards the end,” Holtby said. “But hopefully we can keep the games a little more even than the two starts I’ve had. I’m sure we will once we get our full lineup together. They’re a good team, though.”

4. Eric Fehr and Mikhail Grabovski. They’ve been the two most consistent players on the offensive end throughout the preseason, which is a bit unexpected considering one didn’t arrive at camp until the first week had passed. In four exhibition games, Grabovski finished with one goal and seven assists. Meanwhile, Fehr totaled five goals and three assists in his five appearances.

Grabovski has played with a slew of different linemates since he arrived largely in part because of Brooks Laich’s injury but he’s managed to make a difference every night regardless whom he’s paired with.  If he can continue that over the course of the regular season the Capitals offensive depth can truly be a source of strength.

Fehr has switched positions, played any number of roles and no matter where he’s lined up he’s had an encouraging preseason and been one of the most consistent players on the ice. The key will be to keep that trend rolling into the regular season.

“Find minutes for him,” Oates said when asked what he could do to aid Fehr in that process. “He’s hot, he’s smart, he knows how we play. He’s versatile so just trying to find minutes.”

5. Bring on the regular season. At this stage everyone from management to coaches to players and reporters are ready for the real thing to start. The Capitals will have an off day Sunday and will practice at KCI on Monday before traveling back to Chicago that afternoon ahead of the season opener.

“I’ve been waiting a long time for that it feels like,” Johansson said. “To just get going and get that real rush when you start playing again is something we all want and I think we all going to have now when we start up.”

Said Fehr: “Preseason’s great but it’s a lot of games and you just want to get started and you want to be playing for real. I think our team as a whole is pretty excited to get going.”

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Katie Carrera · September 28, 2013