Capitals Preseason Struggles Start with Blue Line

The preseason hasn’t been great for the Washington Capitals. It began with a shootout loss to the Boston Bruins on Sep. 26, and this past week the team didn’t fare much better. Though the stars recorded some ice time and padded the stat sheet, the questions that need to be answered before the start of the season are still lingering without a concrete solution. The defense doesn’t look ready, center depth may now have to be addressed through necessity, and the youth are creating competition at forward.  

Capitals Blue Line Struggles, Center Competition Heats Up

The Capitals are 0-2-1 through their first three preseason matches. On Sep. 29, they lost to the New Jersey Devils and on Oct. 2, they were outplayed by the Philadelphia Flyers. Of course, records are meaningless in the preseason; the exhibitions are for focusing on the development of the youth and getting the veterans’ legs warm.

Blue Line Lacking

Michal Kempny returned to the ice after being sidelined the last two seasons due to two major injuries and lengthy recoveries. It was good to see him skating again, but he wasn’t sharp. However, that was to be expected. The defenseman did manage to record an assist against the Devils in 19:08 of ice time, but still posted a minus-1 rating, and followed that up with a minus-2 rating against the Flyers.

Nick Jensen was not that much better. Kempny logged more minutes, partially due to skating more on the penalty kill, but Jensen had an overall minus-2 rating with his time spent on the ice. In two games, he only recorded two hits, three blocks, and zero takeaways.

The bright spot of the defense was John Carlson. The defenseman scored two goals against New Jersey in his only preseason game.

Captials Competition at Center

Hendrix Lapierre has shined for the Capitals during the preseason. He registered two assists in Washington’s opener with Boston and added two more helpers versus the Devils last Wednesday. With Nicklas Backstrom set to miss the start of the season because of a hip injury, competition is developing between Lapierre and Connor McMichael.

McMichael was predicted to receive more time this year at the NHL level, but Lapierre is making a case for a roster spot while Backstrom is out, and head coach Peter Laviolette may utilize both, especially the latter early. McMichael has logged a minute more of ice time than Lapierre and has been more steady with the puck and better in the faceoff circle. Yet, Lapierre has progressed in a short time. Against Boston, he had one shot, one giveaway, and won just 18% of his faceoffs, but against New Jersey, he had three shots, one giveaway, and won 71% of his faceoffs.

Related: Capitals Preseason Section

Though it’s wise not to rush the youth, Backstrom’s injury has forced such out of necessity. McMichael should be the choice despite Lapierre outperforming him in points. Lapierre has dazzled, however, so don’t be surprised if he’s in the lineup at some point with Backstrom out. The good thing is that both players are creating opportunities on the offensive end.

Capitals Forwards Playing Well

T.J. Oshie, like Carlson, only skated against the Devils. He scored a goal in 17:33 of ice time. Yet, it has been the youth that has been contributing.

Joe Snively scored the opener in the opener, didn’t skate in the team’s second match, and tallied the exhibition shootout winner in Philadelphia. Garrett Pilon and Aliaksei Protas have also recorded a goal for the Capitals this preseason and are generating opportunities. Protas was second on the team in shots on goal on Saturday.

Capitals Still Need Work

The Capitals need the blue line to get better. The team still has nine days and three more preseason games before the regular-season opener on Oct. 13. As Kempny gets back to 100% and Jensen gets into a groove, that should solve some of their problems. It’s just a matter of how fast that happens and if Laviolette can solidify the correct pairings for opening night.

Two other things to watch for is how Daniel Sprong and Vitek Vanecek play. The winger can be an X-factor for the Capitals this season, or his spot on the roster could be challenged by the youth. Ilya Samsonov played the whole game against Philadelphia and gave up three goals with a .903 save percentage. Vanecek is slated to play all three periods tonight against New Jersey.

The puck drops at 7 p.m. ET. McMichael, Lapierre, Sprong, Pilon, and Protas are all on the roster. Lastly, keep an eye on how well Alex Alexeyev and Martin Fehervary play on the defensive side of the puck, especially considering Kempny and Jensen’s early struggles.

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