By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 29, 2010; 12:23 AM
Halfway through the Washington Capitals' preseason schedule, the only thing certain about the battle for the third-line center position is that none of the main challengers for the position are playing themselves out of the race.
Cody Eakin, Mathieu Perreault and Marcus Johansson each tallied a point in a 3-2 Capitals win over the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night at Verizon Center, and all continue to argue a case for why they should be in Washington's lineup at the start of the regular season over anyone else.
"They're playing pretty well. Every game they're doing something to [make me] sit there at night and say they should stay, they should go, they should stay they should go," said Coach Bruce Boudreau, who wouldn't rule out the possibility of perhaps two of the three making the opening night roster. "Right at this point I guess anything's possible. They're sure making it tough, they're not giving an inch."
Perreault notched the first goal of the contest just over eight minutes into the first period when he snapped a shot past Boston's Nolan Schaefer from the right face-off circle after receiving a pass from Alex Ovechkin, who recorded two primary assists in his preseason debut.
Ovechkin's second helper set up Alexander Semin for a wicked wrist shot that put the Capitals up 2-1 in the second period. Johansson, who saw the most ice time of all three players vying for that center position at 16 minutes 37 seconds, added the other assist on Semin's goal.
"I want to play as much as possible, whatever the situation," Johansson said. "Everyone's here trying their hardest. You cannot take anything for granted with all of us playing so well. You don't know what's going to happen this year, you just have no idea and it's a little confusing now but we're all doing whatever we can to get a spot."
Not to be outdone, Eakin made his way onto the scoresheet when he took a nice centering pass from Matt Bradley and beat Schaefer low glove-side early in the third period for what eventually became the game-winner.
Equally as important as their statistical contributions was the ability of all three young centers to not back down from Boston's physical play. The Bruins, whose roster included nine players who saw fewer than 20 NHL games last season, out-hit the Capitals 22-14 and they rarely passed up a chance to finish their checks against Washington's pivots.
None shrank from the challenge, particularly Eakin who was credited with two hits of his own and also blocked a pair of shots.
"I've played against big guys and it's a different game but they've got to keep up with you and your speed if they want to hit you," said Eakin, who didn't expect to play in the first of back-to-back games against the Bruins this week but was inserted in the lineup after the team opted to hold out Tomas Fleischmann for precautionary reasons.
"I think I did some good work down low, controlled the tempo a lot so I think that's a success," Eakin said. Right now "it's hard and every day you come to the rink and know, if I have an off day that could be it."
The rookies weren't the only one to get involved in the physical play though. On his second shift of the game, Ovechkin smashed Boston's Johnny Boychuk into the boards in the Capitals' defensive zone. With just over three minutes remaining in regulation, Ovechkin got into a small scrum with Boston's Gregory Campbell after Campbell finished a check as the Capitals captain fell into the boards.
"A physical game is always nice, just getting into it right away," Ovechkin said. "They played pretty well. I think they played more physical than us but it's a game and we won the game. I'm happy."