Even as the preseason nears its conclusion the Capitals continue to work through line combinations and give players on the bubble an opportunity to prove themselves.
Friday night at Verizon Center their lineup featured a mix of veterans, including the top line, and those vying for a place on the opening night roster, like Tom Wilson and Tyson Strachan. On the other side, the Philadelphia Flyers brought a lineup that will for the most part be what you see in the regular season.
Nevertheless, the Capitals came away with a 6-3 win. It was a contest that kept the scorekeepers busy, with 23 penalties, 103 penalty minutes including five fights, two 10-minute misconducts, and a game misconduct.
Five thoughts about fight night between the Caps and Flyers.
1. Grabovski no worse for wear. At the 10:40 mark of the first period a scary scene played out for the Capitals. Noted Philadelphia pest Zac Rinaldo lined up Mikhail Grabovski and delivered a significant blow, leading with his right arm and shoulder, to the center’s head. Grabovski dropped to the ice in a heap but largely escaped unscathed, suffering only a bloody nose.
There was a television timeout following the hit, allowing Grabovski time to collect himself on the bench and he was back out on the ice for the next faceoff to start the power play that ensued.
“I think it’s just not smart play,” Grabovski said. “I remember he’s a hitter, he’s looking to play. It’s pretty hard hit but I feel okay right now, ready to play next game. I saw him but it’s my mistake. I always need to be ready for those.”
2. Should Rinaldo be disciplined for the hit? Rinaldo received a five-minute major for elbowing and a game misconduct. Under Rule 20.4 the game misconduct was mandatory for Rinaldo, because he had been assessed a major penalty for one of three infractions (elbowing, charging, boarding) that resulted in an injury to the face or head of his opponent.
“The referees obviously called it a certain way I would imagine the league will look at it,” Coach Adam Oates said. “There’s a line, there’s always a line. That’s a guy that plays that way, he plays on the edge.”
The play will be reviewed by the NHL Department of Player Safety, but whether Rinaldo receives any suspension or fine is difficult to predict. Rinaldo clearly made Grabovski’s head the principle point of contact, that alone should warrant consideration for discipline.
Whether Rinaldo is punished or not, safe to say the Capitals won’t forget the play.
“I don’t think that’s very respectful to target a guy’s head like that,” Tom Wilson said.. “Grabo’s nose was bloody. It was a shoulder right to the head so really, really good job of Grabo to take it and bounce back with a really good game.”
Said Eric Fehr: “I don’t think there’s really a place for that hit at that point in the game but he’s done that continually and hopefully the league takes a look at it.”
3. Wilson’s case. Wilson continues to make a strong argument to stick. He recorded his third goal of the preseason, his second fight along with four shots and two hits in 15:32 of ice time. The Capitals have yet to make a decision on his fate, but for a 19-year-old to look downright confident and comfortable playing against the snarl of the Flyers is pretty impressive.
The goal was a nice tap in off a pretty centering feed by Grabovski and he dominated the fight, pummeling Brayden Schenn, who actually asked Wilson to dance.
“He was just trying to get their guys going. He asked me to go. I was kind of surprised. I didn’t think he was much of a fighter but he asked me to go and the hit on Grabo early in the game I kind of wanted to respond,” said Wilson, who added he had fun playing with the skilled center. “Amazing. I grew up watching him in Toronto, my whole life and I know how talented a player he is. It was nice to be on the receiving end of that pass.”
4. Timetable for Wilson decision. Earlier in the preseason, General Manager George McPhee said he would prefer to make a decision on Wilson’s status before the regular season opens. His stance appears to have changed somewhat since then, though, as McPhee expressed a willingness to experiment with the first-round pick a while longer if necessary.
“We have changed our minds a little bit on that,” McPhee said. “Ideally, you make your decisions and you go with your team but Sunday and Monday are sort of an artificial deadline, it can be extended.”
Wilson can play in nine games before the Capitals would burn the first year on his entry-level contract.
5. About the constant line rotation. The Capitals won’t have the luxury of a dry run in the preseason thanks to several circumstances, from Brooks Laich’s health to Alex Ovechkin’s trip to Greece to Nicklas Backstrom awaiting the birth of his first child and so on. Oates has sought to make the most of the preseason in spite of that, though, learning about the options he has among NHL players and on the bubble.
For all the experimenting, though, it’s hard not to wonder if it might not take the Capitals a few regular season games to truly find their rhythm.
“I still think there’s things that we’ve got to tweak and work on, that’s where obviously you want all your guys there to do that but Brooksie’s been hurt so we didn’t get that chance,” Oates said. “Chemistry’s still going to be a little affected but all and all the guys know what we’re supposed to do and we’re going in the right direction.”
After three games of playing with three different sets of linemates, Grabovski said he wouldn’t mind some consistency himself but that he understands Oates’s approach.
“All partners who I play with are great players. So I enjoy play with everybody. For sure it’s going to be easy for me if coach keep the partners all the same,” Grabovski said. “It’s not easy play all the time with different partners but I think he try best to look at players, give chance to everybody, me too. I just enjoy playing.”