Capitals News & Rumors: Laviolette, McMichael, Fucale

In this edition of Washington Capitals News & Rumors, we’ll dive into the post-match fallout from their preseason loss against the Buffalo Sabres, including head coach Peter Laviolette’s take on the exhibition.

The Capitals opened their account with a 4-3 overtime loss, with the traveling side tying the game with just over a minute left in the final period. Buffalo subsequently won in overtime and added a practice shootout win to their tally afterward. With that, here are some of the key quotes from hockey’s homecoming at Capital One Arena. It was a busy night, and there’s a lot to unpack.

Peter Laviolette Saw Good and Bad in Sabres Loss

Laviolette was keen to stress the imperfections of his team’s performance, saying the Capitals must work on their consistency ahead of the season.

“There were some good things,” the 57-year-old said of his team’s display. “There were times I thought we played really well and there were times when I thought we needed to play with more bite to our game: we kind of went back and forth in pockets. So, we’re looking for more consistency with that.”

Head coach Peter Laviolette, Washington Capitals
Head coach Peter Laviolette, Washington Capitals (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

When asked to elaborate on how he viewed the Capitals’ defensive execution, he added: “There were a lot of good things we did defensively. We shut them down for a while, and then there were a lot of big blunders. There was good and bad in there. We’ll have to look back and work on it in camp.

“We were caught outside the dots a couple of times off the rush and that left somebody open at the back door; I thought we could’ve been better in that area,” he continued. “Breakouts were fine. I thought the defensive structure was pretty good a lot of times, [but] it was off the rush that we missed the third man or the late man, and they ended up getting some chances from that – which is an area we need to tighten up.”

Washington’s coach noticed similarities with his attackers, calling their performance a “mixed bag.”

“Offensively, it’s the same thing,” he said. “We were stuck at six shots forever at one point. We weren’t in the offensive zone, and we weren’t winning those battles, but we got going in certain parts of the game in the second period, and we were pressing offensively after the first couple of shifts in the third period.”

With plenty of preseason games left to play, Laviolette will be targeting incremental improvement ahead of the campaign. As always, it’s a work in progress.

Zach Fucale Impresses with First Period Saves

Netminder Zach Fucale was one of the players who stood out for the Capitals versus the Sabres, making two memorable post-to-post stops in the first period. He ended the night with 15 saves on 17 shots and skated to the bench at the halfway point having impressed his head coach.

“It’s extremely important [to have depth in the netminding position],” Laviolette said when asked about Fucale’s performance. “Injuries are part of the game, guys get dinged up, and goaltenders aren’t immune from that. Having goaltending depth is important, and I thought he played a really good first period – he dealt with those back door plays I was talking about.”

Fucale rose to No. 3 on the depth chart last term, overtaking Phoenix Copley to take control of the crease with the Hershey Bears. This time around, he faces competition from college free agent Clay Stevenson. Regardless, the 27-year-old is optimistic about his future with the organization and recognizes the importance of his backup to the backup role.

Zach Fucale, Washington Capitals
Zach Fucale, Washington Capitals (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

“I felt pretty good,” Fucale said of his first preseason appearance, “there are a couple of things I can work on with those goals, but it’s a good start to preseason and training camp.

“The more the seasons roll by, the more [I feel] the spot I’m in right now is important. You need depth throughout the season, and I take [my role] as a challenge to continue to show that I can play. That’s what I work for every day.”

Fucale starts the season below Darcy Kuemper and Charlie Lindgren in the pecking order. If either falters, he must be ready to step up. The Canadian is off to a good start.

Connor McMichael Aims to Make Centre Role His Own

Connor McMichael is a player Capitals fans have been keeping an eye on this summer. Despite being highly regarded by the organization, he played a bottom-six role and was kept away from his natural position last season.

With that in mind, Washington supporters are keen to see their former first-round pick take the next step, especially with Tom Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom unavailable through injury. Although he didn’t register a point in Buffalo’s win over the Capitals, he was all over the ice and made the most of his opportunity as the centre between Alexander Suzdalev and Anthony Mantha.

Related: 3 Capitals Who Must Step Up in 2022-23

“I felt like we got off to a rough start,” McMichael said of the team’s first preseason contest. “We were trying to get our legs back after the summer, and we knew coming into the game that there would be mistakes. But I thought it was a good starting point for us [because] we picked it up as the game went on, and we’re going to carry that into the next game.”

The Canadian won 70 percent of his faceoff draws, saw 2:20 of ice time on the power play, and an extra 1:53 on the penalty kill. Fans weren’t thrilled to see him only average 10:28 per appearance last season, but he is on the road to playing higher up the lineup this time around.

Connor McMichael Washington Capitals
Connor McMichael, Washington Capitals (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

“It was awesome to play on the power play,” he continued. “I didn’t get many opportunities last year, so it meant a lot to have the chance to show what I can do on the power play, and I was on the penalty kill, too. I like both of those roles, and I like how the coaches are trusting me out there. Hopefully, I can stick with it.

“We’ve brought in a lot of players this summer, and there’s going to be competition for certain spots, and I’m in the position to battle with other guys for those spots. I’ve played centre my entire life, other than a handful of times. It’s my natural position, and that’s where I’m looking to perform.”

Capitals Set for Hectic Preseason

With their first exhibition already in the books, the Capitals return to the ice on Wednesday [28 Sept.] for a road game versus the Philadelphia Flyers. Laviolette & Co. will then finish preseason with fixtures against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings. Stay up to date with the latest news and analysis with The Hockey Writers. We’re just getting started before a make-or-break season in Washington.

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