By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 28, 2009
After hanging on in the third period to defeat the New York Rangers, 4-3, on Sunday, all that's left for the Washington Capitals this preseason is the hardest part: trimming the roster from 28 players to 23 by 3 p.m. Wednesday.
"I'm sure me and George are going to meet when I get back [to the office] and tomorrow with the coaches again," Coach Bruce Boudreau said after the Capitals nearly blew a four-goal lead in their preseason finale at Verizon Center. "We have an idea of where we are going with this. But it's not an exact science. We have to try to see what the best fit for our team is. It might not necessarily be the best players that stay. It might be [about] fit."
One question that might have been answered for them is which two goaltenders will start the season in Washington. Michal Neuvirth was supposed to make his second start of the preseason against the Rangers, but he was unable to suit up because of an undisclosed injury he has been nursing since last week.
With Neuvirth sidelined, Semyon Varlamov got his third start and was backed up by veteran Jos? Theodore.
"I would like to think [Neuvirth's] chances are dimmed if he can't skate tomorrow or the next day," said Boudreau, who has declined to divulge the nature of the goalie's injury.
While Boudreau remained elusive about Neuvirth, he provided some insight into his philosophy in net for the upcoming season. Asked which goaltender will start in the opener Thursday in Boston, Boudreau said: "We have until Thursday to make up our minds. But it doesn't really matter who starts. It's not like we're going to run with one goalie for 80 games. Whoever it is, the first two [goalies], will play very even over the first 30 or 40 games. And then somebody is going to take over like two years ago, after the trade when [Cristobal] Huet and Olie [Kolzig] were here and Huet took over."
Varlamov (28 saves) had an uneven afternoon against the Rangers. He had a shutout going through 40 minutes but then yielded three goals during a span of 9 minutes 10 seconds in the third period, including one on a shot by former Capitals enforcer Donald Brashear.
"I thought it was a little soft," Boudreau said of Brashear's goal. Varlamov "controlled his rebounds really well, [but] we let him down in the third period" by being outshot 20-4.
The position battle up front, unlike in net, remains as muddled as ever. With wingers Tomas Fleischmann and Eric Fehr ailing, Chris Bourque, Quintin Laing, Alexandre Giroux and Keith Aucoin remain in the mix, but only Bourque and Laing suited up against the Rangers. Before the game, Boudreau called it the biggest of Bourque's career -- and Bourque made a statement.
After missing two games with a mild concussion, Bourque scored his first goal of the exhibition season when he redirected a Brian Pothier shot from the point early in the second period to put the Capitals ahead 3-0. Bourque, who skated 14:03 and had two shots on goal, also came close to collecting a nifty assist. But Matt Bradley couldn't beat Henrik Lundqvist (20 saves) after snagging Bourque's no-look, heads-up pass midway through the second period.
"I tried to do everything I could," Bourque said. "I thought I played pretty solid. The rest is up them to decide. I can't do much more other than sit and wait. It's the same situation as last year. It's a nerve-racking time. I can't avoid what's going to happen, so I'm going to keep [my cellphone] right by my side."
Boudreau said of Bourque: "I thought he plays with energy, that he plays with energy all the time. He scored a goal, and other than one play up the middle, I thought he competed really hard."
Laing also helped his cause with another solid performance, an effort that began with him blocking a shot early in the first period with his ribs. Laing said he is confident that he has done enough to, at 30 years old, earn a spot on an NHL opening-night roster for the first time.
"It's easy now," Laing said. "I know that I've done all that I can, that I've tried my hardest."
One forward whose status has been shrouded in mystery all offseason is Michael Nylander. The 36-year-old, who is owed $8.5 million over the next two seasons but has fallen out of favor with Boudreau and management, did not play a single game in the preseason.
Boudreau didn't want to say much about Nylander's situation, but he did hint that there will be a resolution this week. The week before camp began, the Capitals believed Nylander might be willing to accept a transfer to Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, though those negotiations fizzled.
"We'll have a better answer for that by Tuesday, I would think," Boudreau said when asked about Nylander. "Then I would be able to tell you Tuesday or Wednesday what my thoughts are on that. Right now it's up in the air. He's still part of our team."