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It’s a prelude to the beginning of the real thing. Tonight the Washington Capitals play their first pre-season game in a match-up in Buffalo against the Sabres. And while this may not be “must see TV” seeing that it isn’t even on, tonight is an important first test for young players like Joe Finley, (who will actually play tonight as a forward) 2008 first round draft pick Anton Gustafsson, and highly touted defenseman John Carlson who will all see there first official action in a Washington Capitals uniform tonight. Below are the twenty players who will be making the trip up to Buffalo:
21-Laich, 19-Backstrom, 22-Knuble
33-Giroux, 9-Morrison, 17-Clark
56-Bourque, 83-Beagle, 63-A. Gordon
59-Finley, 94-Gustafsson, 90-Pinizzotto
Source: Dump ‘N Chase (Mike Vogal’s blog)
The key here as Boudreau told Vogal today, is that the coaching staff wants to see how the veterans mix with the regulars and how well the prospects and rookies understand the system.
That last part, the “understanding” phrase of the game should be far easier here than on many other teams as Boudreau somehow installed a system that was both disciplined and wide-open in Hershey before moving on and taking his style of play to the brighter stage of Washington. It’s just one of the many reasons why we see Mike Green’s game fully developed today. Bruce saw Mike’s full potential as a coach Hershey, and after finally following Green to Washington, coach Boudreau turned the break light off his game. Thus, the speedy defenseman was allowed the opportunity to show off his full arsenal on the offensive rush, just as long as he skates hard back when transitioning to defense. Check and check. With new assistant coach Bob Woods jumping to the Capitals after serving as head coach for the Hershey Bears last year when they won the Calder Cup, the transition for prospects from Hershey to Washington should be even smoother, although we’d be underrating the significant difference between AHL and NHL games if we said that the transition now was easy. Having some familiarity does help though, just look at the Washington Redskins who don’t have it.
Notes from the final intra-squad scrimmage before the pre-season:
On Wednesday I was able to visit Kettler Ice Plex and witness the final game of the Duchesne Cup, given to the team that wins the series of intra-squad games between Monday and Wednesday.
And at the end of the day, I should use a line that cliché, but more importantly, it was not surprising to see that a team lead by future first liners Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Knuble and fielding such strong prospects as Karl Alzner, John Carlson and Oskar Osala (who I like a lot, more on him later) take home the cup.
It all went down, as Ovechkin’s white jersey clad squad beat a blue clad squad led by Alexander Semin, Brendan Morrison and Chris Clark and featuring such prospects as Mathieu Perreault and Alexander Giroux, 9-5. Here’s the break down of what I saw.
· Where was the defense? Poor Semyon Varlamov did not have a good game getting peppered for eight goals in two periods as the Blue squad’s goalie. Still, Varly got absolutely no help in front of the net, and the biggest negative I got from this game is that the Capitals both in terms of veterans and in prospects look to be lacking exactly what they needed in the playoffs last year, a defenseman who can clear the goal crease out like a wrecking ball. I just didn’t see anyone who fit that mold on Wednesday.
· Alexander Ovechkin looked like a man competing with boys on Wednesday and played in mid-season form during the scrimmage. Scrambling and deaking around defenders all over the ice, Ovechkin’s game was more John Stockton than Karl Malone as Ovechkin finished without a goal but recorded four assists, with two of them coming to Mike Knuble who as is his reputation, was lethal near the net, and looks to already be developing some good 1st line chemistry with Ovechkin.
· Anton Gustafsson for being picked so early in the draft, simply isn’t bringing enough to the table right now.
· Kyle Wilson was at times hardly noticeable in the game, but in the end he finished with two goals. This guy may not have the most natural talent in the world, but in the end he looks smart enough to know when to pick his spots and fight in front of the crease as Wilson scored two goals in front of the net.
· Alexandre Giroux has one of the nicest shots among the players on Hershey and when given room, is dangerous on any rush.
· Defensive prospect Bryan Helmer did not have a very good game and at one point, directly was responsible for a two-on-one the other way as Helmer moved to far up and misjudged a play in which an on-rushing forward would direct a puck off the boards and past him.
· Dmitry Kugryshev might not have been the most hyped player coming in, but he had one of the smoothers games of Washington’s forward prospects on Wednesday.
· Outside of Alexander Ovechkin, the next best player on the ice may have been Oskar Osala who finished with one goal and two assists. All the way back to last season, Tim Leone, who does an amazing job covering the Hershey Bears for the Patriot News told me that he thought that Osala, “might be the most NHL ready,” prospect in the organization. I can certainly see why Leone might have thought that way, as Osala finished with a goal off a beautiful wrist slot in the slot that beat Semyon Varlamov above the left shoulder, and he also displayed a deft touchfinished with two assists.
Osala is fast and a great puck-handler who has excellent speed but never plays out of control. He is smart enough to know when the situation calls for a fast rush up-ice or a slower rush so as to let the play develop. The one criticism I heard of Osala, comes from a Hershey fan I met at the practice named Paul who very accurately told me that, “Osala doesn’t play as big as he is.” This was very true as the forward seemed to shy away from physical play.
Going back to my bearded friend Paul, who told me he was making the trip to Kettler all the way from Chester County in Pennsylvania, the lifelong Hershey fan give me a number of interesting thoughts and observaions. Here are a couple:
· “Joe Finley got his ass-kicked the first time he got into a fight.”
· “Karl Alzner looks bigger and more compact this year.”
· “I can’t believe there is no place for Alexander Giroux on this team.”
For more info: Sabres-Caps preview can be found here