We've got a long journey ahead of us, friends. It's a journey that will hopefully result in bad memories being erased and bad habits forgotten - 82+ games that will decide whether last year was an anomaly or the norm. And while the regular season is still a few weeks away, the journey began tonight with the first preseason tilt of the year against the Blue Jackets.
Despite a lineup card devoid of the big names - Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom, Jeff Schultz, etc. - the Capitals rolled into Columbus this evening and did what the Caps have become known for: they piled on the offense.
With no visual aids to guide us along, here are a few thoughts strictly based on Steve Kolbe's dulcet tones, the box score and the vigilant updates of a few media-types via Twitter:
- There were any number of storylines to follow throughout this game, but by the end of the night it seemed every Caps fan was talking about just one guy. Matt Hendricks, an invitee who has drawn praise yet flown somewhat under the radar amid the MarJo-MP-Flash chatter, made his presence known in a huge way tonight by picking up a hat trick for himself (and earning a few minutes in the Twitter trends, as well). From Nationwide Arena, Mike Vogel declared that none of Hendricks' goals were cheap - so don't close the book on that roster debate just yet, folks.
- It's no secret that ragging on Tomas Fleischmann has become something of a favorite pastime for Caps fans, particularly after a less-than-stellar postseason performance. For one night, however, we'll need to set all that aside - if only momentarily - and talk about the fact that Flash potted two goals tonight, a promising start to his quest for that second line center spot.
- In fact, the entire line of Alexander Semin, Fleischmann and Brooks Laich seemed to come alive tonight, embracing their top line role and factoring in on half the offense. By the end of the night the trio had combined for two goals, five assists, a plus-five rating and ten shots. A slight improvement over their performance five months ago, to say the least...although two penalties for Semin isn't going to impress many people.
- Judging by the awe in the commentators' voices, Marcus Johansson's drop-pass that set up Hendricks' first goal was a beauty. All told, the young Swede seemed to acclimate himself quite well to his first pro experience in North America, finishing the evening with to assists to his credit.
- As the game got underway it was clear that it wouldn't be the smoothest of rides, and a rocky start (and a D corps consisting of lesser-knowns) meant the goalie needed to be sharp. No worries, Semyon Varlamov was manning the pipes and by all accounts was nothing short of stellar. He left the game at the halfway mark with a shutout to his credit, twenty shots fired and twenty shots turned away.
- Offensive explosiveness is a Capitals trademark, and it often comes in bunches. Tonight was no exception, with four of the six goals coming in the second period - and with furious efficiency, coming on just eleven shots.
- As impressive as they've been in training camp thus far, the Jason Chimera - Mathieu Perreault - Eric Fehr line was relatively quiet tonight and each finished a minus-one in a lopsided game. They did seem more active early on, however, with Perreault in particular causing some problems for the Columbus defense and drawing at least one penalty.
- Andrew Gordon put together a nice night for himself, with an assist, a plus-two, two shots and a game-high four hits. That's a simple, reliable style alright.
- Five even-strength goals, one power play goal in four opportunities and 4-for-4 on the penalty kill...can we pretend this one counted?
So after their first foray into hockey since last spring, the Caps head home with a record of...0-0. But their first outing is an impressive one - and an offensively vicious one, even sans Ovechkin, Backstrom and Green - and we scratch another day off our calendars. Here's to a good start.