As the Washington Capitals head into their preseason schedule tonight in Philadelphia, everyone is focusing on which players are making the most of training camp. But camp also is an opportunity for the coaching staff to work out the kinks. They, too, are a little rusty.
"I haven't coached in five months, so some nights you play some little games in your own mind of what's going on," Coach Ron Wilson said. "I've got a plan for the first three games, but you're usually evaluating at least half the lineup. You don't want to over-evaluate some people, but sometimes you try to get people out in areas you think they might not be able to handle. That's the testing part. Say for example Eric Lindros is playing and you put a young guy against him like [rookie] Jeff Halpern. It's a great test for Jeff and you get some butterflies out of the way early. So in the regular season games it's not, `Ooh, I don't have his autograph yet.' He already got it in the preseason game."
As the Capitals begin to trim down from the 70 players in camp (they plan to send about 10 players back to the junior leagues today and be down to 33-34 players next week), Wilson can begin to have more detailed practices and work on specific tactics. He'll tinker with players' roles and look for the most productive combinations.
The Capitals will begin their first special teams drills today and work out the systems in the exhibition games. New acquisitions such as Ulf Dahlen and Joe Sacco will have to learn the Capitals' philosophies and defensive systems and also learn their teammates' tendencies. Wilson said he expects Sacco and Halpern to be a penalty-killing tandem in the preseason and hopes to alleviate some of the penalty-killing responsibilities for more skilled players.
Unsigned restricted free agent Richard Zednik informed the Capitals that he will not return from Europe until a new contract is signed. Immigration problems have been cleared up, General Manager George McPhee said, and Zednik has the necessary documents to return. McPhee said negotiations are continuing daily. A deal is not imminent, though it's unlikely a player of Zednik's limited experience would want to miss the entire preseason.
"I'm not losing any sleep over Zed not being here," Wilson said. "This is a business."