The Capitals kicked off the preseason with a 4-3 shootout win over the Winnipeg Jets here at Yardmen Arena on Saturday night. Mike Green scored the decisive tally in the tiebreak, while Jack Hillen, prospect Stan Galiev and Troy Brouwer each recording a goal in regulation. Brouwer’s was on a power play.
With a total of 82 shots, this was far from a display of solid defense. It was the type of free-flowing, unpredictable contest that’s expected in a preseason game after just two days of training camp practices.
Five thoughts on the preseason opener.
1. Ovechkin high-stick scare. Less than seven minutes into the Hockeyville contest, Jets prospect Ben Chiarot’s stick clipped Alex Ovechkin up high sending the Capitals’ star winger to the ice in a heap. Talk about a potentially worst-case scenario for Washington.
Ovechkin went off the ice under his own power to be tended to by the team’s athletic trainers but was back less than three minutes later. He didn’t speak to reporters afterward but had a visibly swollen upper lip and Coach Adam Oates said Ovechkin did need a few stitches.
Asked about the close call, Green gave an early entrant in the quote-of-the-year contest about his teammate.
“He got lucky,” Green said. “But Ovi always seems to come out of it. He looks mangled, but he’s always Okay. I guess that’s why they call him the Russian Machine.”
2. About those new nets. Saturday’s game was the first time the Capitals have used the new nets that will be in place this season, because that kind of net hasn’t arrived at Kettler Capitlas Iceplex yet. The new nets are four inches shallower and the side radius has also been reduced by four inches on each side, altering the angle of the curvature on the net. Those changes make for more room behind the net and less of a curve jutting out on each side of the cage. (Here’s an image the NHL recently released of the dimensions.)
With less to stickhandle around, players can wrap around the net faster for chances leaving less time for goaltenders to react and cover that far post. Winnipeg 2012 third-round pick Scott Kosmachuk was the first to benefit from the new net shape as he beat Braden Holtby on a wraparound in the second period Saturday night.
More on this topic tomorrow, but Oates is looking forward to getting the nets in Washington so the players can get used to the subtle alterations.
“I thought there were a couple touches that scared us a bit, I don’t know about them but maybe a little bit. We obviously need more feedback,” Oates said. “It’s the bounces. Someone dumps it in, how’s it going to ricochet off the net? Guys coming around, the angles.”
3. Evander Kane, Caps killer. For whatever reason, the Jets winger thrives against Washington even in the preseason. He scored two goals Saturday, dished out a few big hits and showed no signs of the surgery he had to alleviate pressure on a nerve in his left foot in June. Kane has recorded 10 goals in 20 career regular season games against the Capitals, so they probably won’t mind not facing him as a divisional opponent this year.
“The one thing I was thinking was, ‘Don’t let him get three,’” Karl Alzner said. “That would really bug me. I don’t know what it is about him. He likes playing against us.”
4. Hockeyville. It was tough to know exactly what to expect of this game, but the atmosphere in Belleville was a fantastic display of how important hockey is to the fabric of every town in Canada. And how much seeing, or meeting, NHL players can mean to any age of fan.
Belleville residents welcomed back players that once sported Bulls jerseys like true celebrities, lining up to pose for pictures and congratulating them on their progress up the hockey ranks. During the morning skates, nothing created as much stir as when kids scurried over to the tunnel to catch a glimpse or maybe even an autograph from Ovechkin or another pro.
“The people were excited for us to be here, especially the kids,” Green said. “They don’t get to see very many NHL players come through here, so it was important for us to make sure we take our time and sign (autographs).”
Said Hillen: “I thought it was fun. It felt almost like a college game, some of those older barns that have a good atmosphere. I think they really appreciated hockey.”
5. Preseason perspective. A preseason opener isn’t going to be a demonstration in perfection, but it did offer an early look at some of the younger players in training camp. Prospect Stan Galiev looked comfortable throughout the contest and took advantage of the extra space on the larger, Olympic-size ice in Belleville. And every time I see goaltender Philipp Grubauer in person his ability to remain a calm presence in net seems to be more impressive.
But it is the first preseason game.
“It’s only one game, hopefully [younger players] get a chance to play three, four, five in the exhibition and you’ll get more of a read on a day-to-day basis,” Oates said. “Tonight, it’s their first game guys are in such different conditioning everybody’s just trying to get into it. A week from now it would be a different game.”