His voice already turned onto gravel by the second day of Capitals training camp, so Coach Barry Trotz resorted to swinging his stick as if waving a base runner home. Up above the rink, Troy Mann watched with sympathy. Too much yelling during rookie camp had posed a similar problem for Hershey’s coach. His solution?
“Swallowed a lot of honey,” Mann said. Several tablespoons at a local Residence Inn, mixed with some throat lozenges, did the trick, and Mann thought maybe Trotz could use a similar prescription. If so, it would basically be the only impromptu, unexpected aspect of Trotz’s debut preseason with the Capitals, which had been scripted throughout the summer, right down to who would log ice time – and how much – in which preseason games.
“A ghost roster,” is what Trotz called it, because it could change at any moment depending on injuries and young standouts at camp, but the baseline plan was laid out long before the 66 players checked in.
It all begins Sunday night at Verizon Center against Buffalo, where a mix of veteran and prospects will open Washington’s preseason at 5 p.m. But Trotz cautioned reporters, just as he cautioned the members of his “leadership group,” to avoid reading into any of the line combinations and defensive pairings.
“It’s about how we play, not who you play with,” he said Friday. “You can make up any story you want and they’ll just be made up. The lines are put together based on trying to…there’s some mentorship things that it’s about how we play. After those first three games, then we’ll start getting some pairs together. Game four, you can start saying maybe this guy may not play or whatever. Until then, don’t worry. You can write all you want. You’ll be writing for nothing.”
And so Saturday morning brought lines such as Jason Chimera-Chandler Stephenson-Chris Brown, or Jakub Vrana-Andre Burakovsky-Eric Fehr, blends of the young and old unlikely to see the light of the regular season, but precisely what Trotz wants from the early days of camp.
“I want to establish a protocol,” he said. “There’s some mentorship. You’ll see some veteran guys playing with young guys, all that. I need to establish what a Capitals culture is, and a Capitals culture is about foundational hard work. We’re going to get the structure. We’ve got good people that care about each other. We’ve got some great talent here and we’ve got to get better every day.”
The short window between Friday, the first day, and Sunday, the preseason opener, had Trotz cramming action into 90 minutes of ice time for each group. On Saturday, the intensity ramped up at the main rink with a drill filled with hard checks into the boards. Afterward, the groups had their off-ice workout, then a video session to further teach the foundations of Washington’s new system.
“I would prefer probably a couple days, because I think any coach would, but it is what it is,” Trotz said. “We’ll have one really practice with any kind of system base to work into it, then playing two games. It’s about a how-we’re-going-to-play mentality rather than the X’s and O’s.”
Those, he said, will come later, around the time the real line combinations start to surface. Trotz planned to play the veterans “probably five games,” though some might log as many as six and rookies who impress during camp could crack into the rotation, even if they weren’t initially scheduled to play.
“I will say this, it’s difficult on the defense to get the guys in, there’s only six spots, and there’s a lot of guys vying for that 6-8 spot,” Trotz said. “We have to be conscious and get those guys their proper due. Then forwards a little less, because there’s 12 spots. That’s a little easier.”
The full roster for Sunday’s preseason opener is expected to be announced later Saturday.