A week into training camp, the Washington Capitals appear to be picking up where they left off last season, displaying disciplined, defensive hockey.
Instead of gradually skating their way into condition by playing fewer games and playing them later in the preseason as they did last year, this year's team was facing off after just four days of work. If the just-completed three-game road trip, which produced two victories and a tie, is an indication, the Capitals are eager to get on with the season.
"There's no question the guys are playing very well," said Coach Bryan Murray after his team had beaten the Minnesota North Stars, 3-1, Saturday night to finish a three-game road trip. "Of course, most of the players we had on this trip were the guys who played last year, but I see a lot of things I like. And keep in mind we keep changing lines right now because nothing is set."
Murray stresses that players should finish off plays and take care of their own territory.
So far, even the younger, would-be Capitals are keeping that in mind. "They have to; they don't know if they'll make the team," Murray said with a smile.
Peter Andersson, Swedish defenseman who was one of the few offseason additions to Washington's roster, will hardly have to worry about that. Andersson displayed the poise expected of a player seasoned in Europe while working the power play point (along with Darren Veitch) and playing enough defensive shifts to show the promise of what he can do.
"I don't anticipate any adjusting problems there," Murray said. "He'll fit right in."
Dean Evason, one of the hopefuls in camp, also played in both games against Minnesota. General Manager David Poile had said last week that everyone in camp would participate in games, either for Hershey or Washington, so management could better assess talent.
"Last year we didn't know everybody, we went back to Washington with our choices and within a few weeks, there had to be changes," he said. "This time, I would like to look more closely at each player's abilities."
In the first of their 11 preseason games, the Capitals easily defeated the sluggish Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday night, 3-1. Explaining the number of minor penalties in that game, Murray said his team was "a little out of sync," but he was generally pleased with the play.
A night later, in London, Ontario, Washington met Minnesota in the Capitals' first overtime game. A three-goal performance by Alan Haworth, who also had an assist, brought the Capitals to a 4-4 decision at the end of regulation time. The hard-skating North Stars, playing their first preseason game, didn't get a shot on goal in the extra five-minute period, and the score remained tied.
And in Kitchener, Ontario, hometown of defenseman Scott Stevens, the Capitals easily beat the North Stars, 3-1, Saturday, taking an early lead on Stevens' goal and never relinquishing it despite increased hitting by Minnesota. The Capitals' had five shots on goal in the opening period and scored on three of them.
"We had a little relapse there in the second period, but overall, I would say we looked pretty balanced against them," Murray said. "Now we just keep working to get ready for the next ones."
The Capitals open their second week of training camp preparing for the heaviest part of the preseason schedule--five games in five nights, beginning with Pittsburgh here Wednesday, followed by a road trip to Quebec City and Hartford Thursday and Friday. The Whalers meet Washington at Hershey next Saturday night, and on Sunday, the Washington contingent breaks camp here and meets Pittsburgh at Baltimore that night. At that point, players will be assigned to Washington or Hershey clubs.
The remainder of training will be done at the Capitals' new practice site, Mount Vernon sports complex.