Day Five of the Washington Capitals’ 2018 Training Camp kicked off on Tuesday, with red and white lines being shuffled like diamonds and hearts - and of course, a few jokers.
The Capitals play the Boston Bruins tonight at Capital One Arena in Washington, DC, the Caps’ second game of the 2018 preseason. After losing to these same grizzly Bruins in Boston on Sunday, the Capitals spent all day Tuesday running scrimmages, testing line combinations, and measuring chemistry like a graduated cylinder.
Capitals head coach Todd Reirden kicked off the day by chatting with the assembled media (okay, the four of us) about what he hopes to see from his squad tonight against Boston. For his part, Reirden made it clear that to crack this roster for rookies - or to secure a larger role for veterans - he’s looking for multi-purpose players that fill multiple roles. Single-use specialists need not apply.
“It’s a competition. There’s only one way to find out [if a player can play a certain role]. This is a chance to see each of them and the things they bring to the game. Face-offs, penalty kill opportunities...for me, it’s about being able to play multiple positions,” Reirden explained. “It’s important a lot of times when you’re deciding who to carry on your roster that you have versatility throughout it. You can use different people in different spots. Things happen during games; having guys that can play multiple positions is always really important to me as a coach.”
To that end, I asked Reirden if he would be willing to move some wing prospects (where the Capitals are deeper with skaters like Nate Walker, Shane Gersich, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, et al.) to the pivot in order to try them at 4th-line center.
“Yeah, for sure,” the coach told me. “I’m open to anything for that, in that situation. It is a full-on competition, and it’s pretty clear to see that we need to put together the best possible 4th line that we can.” Echoing his earlier sentiments, Reirden continued, “We’re trying to give ourselves the best chance to not only have success 5-on-5 with the group that we’ve put out there, but also guys that are valuable penalty killers and special teams players.”
And speaking of Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, Reirden singled him out as a rookie he’s particularly excited to give a chance tonight against the Bruins.
“Just his speed he plays the game with, I thought he was a factor for sure in the rookie tournament. I wanted to get him [on a line tonight] with his fellow countrymen to help him along,” Reirden said.
But everyone knows about Jonsson-Fjallby’s wheels. I asked Reirden what else the young Swede needs to improve to get NHL-ready.
“[He’ll improve] as he continues to figure out the detail that’s expected in our organization that all our wingers have to play with. It’s so important [in the NHL] now with the wall play, coming out of the D-zone with possession of the puck...using your skill set at the right time when the situation presents itself,” Reirden said. “He’s got to make sure that people leave the game saying, ‘That guy can skate, and that guy hunts pucks and causes turnovers, and was able to add off the rush, and when he’s out there penalty killing, he’s looking to disrupt as well.’”
A tall order, but one the coach - who has a long, celebrated history of developing young players like Dmitry Orlov - thinks the rookie is up for.
Updates from Day Five
Here’s what else caught our eye on Day Five of Capitals Training Camp.
Third Line Magic
The Capitals third line of Brett Connolly, Lars Eller, and Andre Burakovsky picked right up where it left off last season, flying all over the ice during scrimmage and creating big-league-sized headaches for rookie prospects trying to cover them.
With Eller using his rock-solid fundamentals and positioning to create space for the talented-if-streaky Connolly and Burakovsky, the Caps’ third line could continue to be a real maelstrom of hurt and goal sirens this year, too.
Madison Bowey, Michal Kempny Shine
Excellent again today was defenseman Madison Bowey. Bowey, who told me on Saturday that he credits Brooks Orpik with helping him grow into an NHL-ready blueliner, continued to step up in camp and show that the 3rd-pair role is, at least among the youngsters, his to lose.
Madison Bowey is absolutely effusive in his genuine, sincere praise of Brooks Orpik.— Jason Rogers (@HeyJayJRogers) September 15, 2018
Credits Orpik for building his confidence and helping to convince him that he's good enough to be an NHL starter.
Bowey showed great positioning and anticipation during scrimmage, making smart, quick plays and intercepting several passes thanks to his attention to detail within the system. He also demonstrated great understanding of the need to break pucks out quickly, exiting the zone nearly as quickly as he touched the puck.
Veteran Michal Kempny, playoff hero and newly-minted 4-year, $10 million man, also looked strong in camp today. Kempny showed a meanness and ferocity that no one else on the ice looked prepared to match on Tuesday, battling fiercely with Tom Wilson and giving the high-and-hard business to fellow Czech countryman Jakub Vrana in the corners.
I asked Kempny on Friday about his new contract. He told me he’s never felt this kind of job security in his role, or this valued by an organization. We could see him grow even more this season.
Who’s Down With DSP?
Of course, everyone’s favorite fourth-liner and Stanley Cup hero Devante Smith-Pelly was on the ice again on Tuesday, and in addition to his heavy playing style and intense professionalism, he brought a little fun for the fans that has made him a clear favorite here in Washington.
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!