After two grueling practice days that opened their second preseason under Trotz, spent mostly teaching structure and installing systems, the third morning brought the Capitals closer to live game action, necessary with Monday’s opener against Carolina around the corner. Evgeny Kuznetsov centered a line with forwards Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie, perhaps a teaser for the regular season. Defensemen Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen skated together, reprising their roles from 2014-15. In between periods, the Capitals spent five minutes testing various three-on-three overtime looks, then added shootout work for good measure.
Monday’s roster won’t be announced until that morning, and Trotz’s expectations for on-ice crispness won’t be astronomically high. He recalled watching Washington’s prospects during its rookie tournament in Florida earlier this month, when the first period of the first game felt helter-skelter. He expected more of the same early in the preseason, even for NHL veterans.
“We didn’t do a lot of scrimmages because we were trying to get some things in, then we’ll sort of come together during the game,” Trotz said. “If it’s any indication, it might be similar to the rookie tournament, where the first period, we looked – not out of sorts – but looked really fast and a little bit disorganized, then the second and third period are really good.
“But our structure and the stuff we’ve implemented in the second and third period got better and better and then in the second game with the rookies they were outstanding. It looked like they’d been playing together for a while. We’ll just let them play. Good players will figure it out. We’ll let it play out. It’ll give us some footage … we’ll be able to go ‘this is why you do this, this is why you do that.’ We’ll use it as a teaching tool, especially in the first two games.”
Though Trotz predicted he wouldn’t finalize the forward lines until later this preseason, the groups deployed Sunday represented a decent teaser. With center Nicklas Backstrom still recovering from hip surgery, expecting an opening-night top line of Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Oshie would be reasonable. Same goes for a second line of Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky and Justin Williams, who practiced together with the third group that did not scrimmage.
Other trios of projected Capitals included Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich and Tom Wilson, and Zach Sill, Jay Beagle and Michael Latta. Liam O’Brien, Derek Roy and Chris Brown also formed a group, comprised of forwards currently fighting for depth roster roles.
“You’re looking for a forward pairing you think will play well,” Trotz said. “It’s just like you look at Backie and Ovie have played together for years now, who’s going to be the other guy over there? I’m probably going to look at trying to pair some people together and see the combinations that might work. We’ll start that tomorrow. If you’ve noticed, I’ve had Kuznetsov and Ovi and Williams together, I’ve already had Kuznetsov, Ovi and Oshie together. And so just taking looks. I’m going to let them play a little bit in the preseason and I would say probably the last two games we’ll lock it in for the season and go from there.”