Preseason Preview: Caps vs. Sabres
Love it or hate it, the Caps kick off preseason on Sunday with a late-afternoon game against the Sabres. It’s the first of eight contests before their first taste of regular-season action against the Habs. Without further ado, here’s a look at the Caps’ 2014 preseason debut.
9/21 vs. Buffalo
The Sabres won’t contend for much besides the first overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. Factor in the preseason’s low quality of play, and the Caps should have a fairly winnable game on their hands. Then again, it is the preseason–barely more than a chance for Trotz to implement his system in game conditions, assess players old and new, and tinker with line combinations and defensive pairings.
But watching Sam Reinhart get a taste of action in a Buffalo sweater is reason enough to tune in. And remember Michal Neuvirth? He’s in the last year of his contract and will be battling Jhonas Enroth for the role of starting goaltender. It’s possible that Holtby and Neuvirth could face each other, though offseason acquisition Justin Peters might make an appearance. The Caps invited eight goalies to training camp, and it’s clear where the majority will start the season. However, injuries may shake up the Bears and Stingrays. Seeing how the lower-level goalies hold their own against a blend of rookies and veterans will be an important part of assessing their abilities.
The same can be said of both rookies and veterans. While there’s only one major hole among forwards, it’s a pretty significant one: second-line center. Burakovsky, Kuznetsov, Johansson, and Laich are in the running, and Trotz will definitely try each at the position. How Burakovsky will fare against bigger, stronger competition is unknown. Kuznetsov saw a sliver of NHL action toward the tail end of last season, but the full extent of his abilities against top competition is another question mark. Johansson’s role with the Caps remains murky as ever, despite his history with the franchise. Uncertainty surrounds Laich, once the Caps’ most versatile player. The issue isn’t where he’ll fit; it’s his health.
Yet one player must juggle both concerns, from his role to his health. His name is Mike Green, and today might be his first game under Trotz’s new system–one designed to maximize his puck-moving abilities and offensive touch.
Many have Green pegged as half of the Caps’ bottom pairing. I believe it’s unlikely for the regular season, but Trotz has made clear he’ll be mixing and matching the defensemen. “Don’t read into anything,” he said on the issue of constructing lines and pairings. Erskine-Carrick 2.0 will hopefully be avoided, but watching the Caps’ core defensemen trade places will be interesting. Trotz also stated that the sixth, seventh, and eighth blueline spots are there for the taking–news that should invigorate Orlov, an apparent lock for the upcoming season. Unfortunately, a wrist injury will keep him out of commission until the regular season, but a slew of rookies will be eager to take his place. Schmidt and Carrick both saw significant ice time last season and will be given a serious look from Trotz and his staff–even if they arguably need additional seasoning.
All in all, this first game won’t be particularly telling. It’s the first game of the preseason, which some argue isn’t worth watching. Nothing of merit will be revealed, much less finalized, after a game’s worth of play. New coaches and new players amp up the entertainment value–as does the number of times Ovechkin will inevitably be dubbed enigmatic and/or lazy.