Laviolette and his staff started to meet with players after the scrimmage Sunday night regarding roster cuts. Opening night rosters must be set by Tuesday, so more cuts will follow before the team leaves Wednesday afternoon for its season opener Thursday night in Buffalo.
The Capitals split their group into white and red teams for Sunday’s scrimmage, sprinkling both veterans and prospects on each side. Team White won, 3-1, with the game’s goals scored by Zdeno Chara, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin.
Here are five takeaways from the session:
Taxi squad players will play an important role this season
Laviolette has made it clear he values the taxi squad, so Sunday’s scrimmage was an important opportunity to evaluate some of those players. The taxi squad will consist of four to six players who are not on the active roster but are available to be called up in the event of a coronavirus outbreak.
Laviolette mentioned defenseman Martin Fehervary, a candidate for a taxi squad spot, as a standout during the team’s first scrimmage Thursday, and Fehervary continued to impress Sunday.
“There are going to be things that come up, and we will need a deep roster, deep squad, and while not everybody is getting a crack in the first group, there will be guys in the second group playing games for us this year," Laviolette said.
Center Connor McMichael is another prospect who could be designated to the taxi squad. The Capitals’ 2019 first-round draft pick arrived in Washington over the weekend after playing for Canada at the world junior championships in Edmonton. He is in mandatory quarantine and will not be able to practice with the team before it leaves for Buffalo, but the hope is to work him in with the group once it returns.
McMichael is also eligible to play for the Hershey Bears, the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Hershey, Pa. The AHL’s tentative start date is Feb. 5.
Jakub Vrana is poised for another strong year
Vrana could benefit from Laviolette’s high-tempo system this season, using his natural speed to his advantage. The 24-year-old’s strong skating has been on display during multiple training camp sessions.
Vrana got a couple of nice scoring chances during Sunday’s scrimmage, including one clear breakaway and a penalty shot, but he couldn’t find the back of the net.
Vrana’s biggest issue the past two seasons has been his production in the postseason. He failed to record a point in either of the team’s first-round exits since the 2018 Stanley Cup run. After the team’s seven-game loss to Carolina in 2019, Vrana said his performance left his confidence shattered. Now, after the entire team struggled this past summer in a five-game loss to the New York Islanders, Vrana said he is just hoping to move forward.
“Obviously, it wasn’t great," Vrana said of the postseason. “Nothing goes really well for us in the playoffs, but sometimes there is up and downs in your career. You’ve got to find a way [that] your mind-set is going to go the right way."
Vrana set career highs in goals the past two seasons, tallying 24 during the 2018-19 campaign and 25 in 2019-20.
His usage on the second power-play unit — which puts him in position to shoot more often — also could boost his numbers in the upcoming season.
Daniel Sprong is making his case
Sprong, 23, joined the Capitals’ main group of skaters Saturday for the first time — pushing offseason acquisition Conor Sheary to the second group — and skated on the third line with Lars Eller and Richard Panik.
Sprong remained with that unit Sunday, and Sheary skated with depth players Philippe Maillet and Daniel Carr. Sprong stood out during the scrimmage and was especially noticeable when moving the puck along the boards.
Sprong seemed to have the inside track to be the team’s 12th forward before the team signed Sheary in late December. Now, whether he starts on the active roster or on the taxi squad is a question mark, and the lack of preseason games hurts his chances of moving up.
“I think all around the league a lot of young guys want those preseason games, but because of those covid rules and everything, it’s safety first,” Sprong said. “These scrimmages are important for everyone, and you just try to do your best and showcase your skill set.”
Young defensemen fight for their spot
The Capitals’ blue line is crowded, so these scrimmages have been crucial for Jonas Siegenthaler and Fehervary to prove they deserve a chance to contribute. Fehevrary looked good defensively and offensively Sunday, with a couple of scoring opportunities that missed the mark.
Siegenthaler, 23, appears to have been pushed out of the lineup with the addition of Chara, but he knows he has a lot to show and acknowledges he hasn’t reached his potential.
Siegenthaler, who was re-signed to a one-year, $800,000 deal in mid-October as a restricted free agent, played in 64 games and finished with two goals and seven assists last season. The 23-year-old said he hasn’t been told specifics about his role this year.
“It’s obvious: Everybody’s kind of fighting for a spot,” Siegenthaler said. “At the end of the day, we’re friends, but you want to compete for the spot and you want to play as much games as you can. I’m just going out there trying to do my best. At the end of the day, I want to play those games. I want to start the season [on] opening night. That’s my goal.”
Craig Anderson sees improvement
Anderson appeared to have a better performance Sunday afternoon after noticeably struggling in the first scrimmage. The veteran goaltender stopped three or four high-danger chances in a six-minute span in the first 20-minute period, including Vrana’s partial breakaway.
Anderson, 39, signed a professional tryout agreement with the Capitals before training camp, and coronavirus protocols will require all teams to keep at least three goaltenders on their active roster and taxi squad this season. Vitek Vanecek appears to have the inside track to be the backup to Ilya Samsonov, but Pheonix Copley and Anderson are in the mix.
Anderson, the former longtime Ottawa Senators netminder, took a break from hockey after last season, deciding to coach his son’s baseball team. But he said his passion for hockey started to creep back up about four months ago, and he decided to give it another go.
“Coming into camp here, it’s more or less put the work boots on, almost put the horse blinders on and get the work boots on," Anderson said. “Pretty much all you can do is come in, greet everybody, be polite, try to get your feet wet."