DETROIT — Midway through the preseason, a familiar cast of Washington Capitals veterans finally made their debuts in a 2-0 win Friday night over the Detroit Red Wings, a result that included experienced players shaking off rust and prospects fighting for roster spots.
The Capitals’ next preseason game is Saturday at Columbus.
Here’s what else to know about the Capitals’ win:
Vets looks solid
Alex Ovechkin has never needed much time in the preseason to find his form. He looked as spry as ever in his preseason debut. He took the game’s first shot on goal and finished with four. Headed into training camp, Ovechkin said he was happy with his offseason workouts and felt fully prepared headed into his 18th NHL season. Against the Red Wings, he played on a line with Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie.
Oshie could take over that right winger role on the top line with Tom Wilson (knee) out to start the season, but it appears more likely newcomer Connor Brown will get those top minutes and Oshie will fit on the second or third line.
Goaltender Darcy Kuemper played his first game in a Capitals uniform. He didn’t face a lot of shots in the first period, but he had his first big save early in the second when he stopped Pius Suter from point-blank range. Though he wasn’t tested much, Kuemper stopped all nine shots he faced before he was taken out of the game with 8:30 left in the second.
“It was just nice to get some game action again,” Kuemper said. “First real action with this group in front of me. I loved the structure we played with today. We played tight, and it wasn’t a ton of work but nice to get back out there for sure.”
Young blue-liners make their case
While the Capitals’ blue line has five returning players from last season, a handful of young defensemen are trying to earn their spots. Johansen, Vincent Iorio and Bobby Nardella have flashed potential throughout preseason. All three blue-liners played against the Red Wings, and each was paired with a seasoned defenseman.
Johansen skated with Carlson, Iorio was paired with Martin Fehervary, and Nardella teamed with Nick Jensen. Nardella, who struggled with injuries last season in the American Hockey League, has been a surprise in camp. He had two assists Wednesday against Philadelphia and has kept up with the pace of NHL play. Despite his injuries last season, he finished with six goals and 17 assists in 44 AHL games.
Johansen, who had the assist on Carlson’s goal against Detroit, has been looking more comfortable as camp has progressed. The Capitals’ 2016 first-round pick made his NHL debut last season but played in only one NHL game before playing the rest of the season in the AHL. He looks AHL-bound this season, but if he continues to improve, he could make his case to be part of Washington’s blue line.
“It’s nice to get a couple games in already; I’m trying to get in as many as I can,” Johansen said. “The more games I play the better off I’ll be. . . . [Playing with Carlson], he is a world-class player. Makes it easy for everyone out there. Great communicator and one of the best in the world to do it, so it’s fun.”
While the Capitals’ young players have flashed, it could be tough to fit them into Washington’s veteran-heavy forward group. Convincing arguments can be made that forward Aliaksei Protas should stay up in Washington instead of going down to the AHL, but for him to play full-time NHL minutes, second-year forward Connor McMichael probably would be removed from the lineup.
McMichael played in 68 games last season with Washington but hasn’t locked in his spot during the preseason. McMichael is in a competition with newcomer Dylan Strome, and in camp it appears Strome has the edge to be the second-line center.
Protas, who can play wing and center, has played in all three of the Capitals’ preseason games and has been efficient throughout training camp, using his speed and physicality in key spots. He could be a dark horse to make the lineup opening night.
Washington trimmed its training camp roster to 40 players Friday afternoon, cutting 22 players with its season opener a week and a half away. There were no surprises, with 14 players being sent to training camp in Hershey, Pa., including Peter Laviolette III (son of the Capitals’ coach) and Matthew Strome, the younger brother of Dylan.
The Capitals also placed four players on waivers for the purpose of loaning them to Hershey: forward Michael Sgarbossa, goaltender Hunter Shepard, forward Riley Sutter and forward Mike Vecchione.