Well, it’s finally here, Caps fans!
The 2018-2019 season officially began for the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals on Friday morning, as the team kicked off its 2018 Training Camp at MedStar Capitals Iceplex in Arlington.
With plenty of new faces on the ice, and one particular piece of new hardware in the trophy case, what should Capitals fans be looking for coming out of training camp?
Well, we’re glad you asked!
Hangover? What Hangover? (But if that’s your thing...)
One of the big questions on everyone’s mind was obvious: with their ultimate goal finally achieved, and just a brief 90-day break between last season’s conclusion and the start of this year’s campaign....and of course, the now-infamous footage of their jubilantly goofy celebrations....would this team be dealing with any hangovers, either medical or metaphorical?
“I like the short summer,” said center and impish Scandinavian cherub Nicklas Backstrom. “You’re not as rusty when you step on the ice.”
Backstrom also told the assembled media that his gnarly, hellish, Lovecraftian finger injury, suffered against Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, feels “great.”
But the overarching message from Backstrom and other Caps players was simple: the platoon is back together, the target is the same; it’s time to reload the gun.
“Everyone is just excited to be back and get it going again,” Backstrom said. I pushed Backstrom, asking him where this team does have room to improve. He smiled sheepishly, then told me, with a shrug, “I don’t know....we were pretty good last year.”
Goalie Braden Holtby, bearded hero and sire of The Save, echoed Backstrom’s sentiment. In fact, he corrected me when I asked what he’ll be looking for from a potentially different-looking third defensive pair in front of him.
“Um, I think we have everyone coming back....so....I think it should be a pretty simple transition,” Holtby reminded me. “I think a huge reason we had so much success was our defensive core. It’s gonna be fun to have a full year that way.”
(Agree to disagree, Braden, on whether or not Brooks Orpik will indeed be the opening night starter. But I digress.)
Young Guns, New Guns, Red Guns, Blue Guns
One of the best parts of training camp is seeing all the new faces! It’s like the first day of school, but with less cafeteria mashed potatoes, slightly more slashing, and about the same amount of name tags.
Here’s some of our observations from the first day of Capitals training camp.
Drills, Skating Tests, and Battles, Oh My!
Designed to test a player’s conditioning by simulating an NHL shift with its down-and-back-and-down-again sprint structure, skating tests are a training camp rite of passage, a firm slap to the lungs that says, “This is the NHL now, boys.”
Showing some wheels early were Chandler Stephenson and Madison Bowey. Fringe players like Bowey, fighting for a starting position, have all the incentive in the world to give it everything they’ve got in front of the coaches. Bowey for his part won all three legs of his skating test, and showed an explosive combination of speed and stamina.
Interestingly, defenseman and 2018 1st-round draft pick Alexander Alexyev looked downright slow and exhausted just one leg into his skating test. In the video below, you can see Alexyev slogging his way to the finish line, well behind his teammates.
On the other hand, Hershey Bears defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler looked absolutely fantastic, breaking up every single 2-on-1 rush drill he faced. With decent speed and size to boot, Siegenthaler may just have a shot to crack the NHL roster as a Black Ace.
Also impressive was Australian wunderkind Nathan Walker, newly married winger (sorry, folks). Battling against T.J. Oshie during corner drills, Walker was feisty, quick, and showed great hands.
“Frankly, I’d love to see him on the penalty kill this year,” NBC Sports Washington’s Craig Laughlin told me. “He’s like a smaller Tom Wilson.”
Big Year, Big Changes
Nearly every player readily admitted that this summer, though, had been one hell of an excellent one.
In addition to winning a freaking Stanley Cup, Alex Ovechkin became a father for the first time with the birth of his son Sergei. Nick Backstrom, himself a dad to two young children, told the assembled media, “I texted [Ovechkin] after his son was born and told him, ‘Wow, what a summer. Two of the best possible things in life.’”
Of course, that prompted the question from the reporters gathered there: Which is better, having a child, or winning a Cup?
Backstrom paused, laughed, thought, smirked, blushed, and eventually answered, simply, “You’re putting me on the spot here.”
The entire time Backstrom spoke of Ovechkin’s summer, he was visibly fighting back giggles, clearly genuinely fond of his long-time teammate. That is, until he was asked about Ovechkin handing him the Cup first after winning Game 5 of the Final in Las Vegas. His face changed, and he suddenly got serious, and sincere.
“That was very special,” he said.
More To Come!
Japers’ Rink will be reporting LIVE from Capitals training camp all week, so check back in regularly for updates, fun stories, and more, all coming to you direct from MedStar Capitals Iceplex!