The Washington Post
Caps assess depth in final scrimmage
Coach Peter Laviolette sat in the bleachers at the Washington Capitals’ practice facility in Arlington late Sunday afternoon as his players took part in the final intrasquad scrimmage of training camp. Laviolette wanted to make sure he could take in practice from a different vantage point and evaluate from a more neutral setting before starting to trim down the roster.
Laviolette and his staff started to meet with players after the scrimmage Sunday night regarding roster cuts. Opening night rosters must be set by Tuesday, so more cuts will follow before the team leaves Wednesday afternoon for its season opener Thursday night in Buffalo.
The Capitals split their group into white and red teams for Sunday’s scrimmage, sprinkling both veterans and prospects on each side. Team White won, 3-1, with the game’s goals scored by Zdeno Chara, T. J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin.
Here are five takeaways from the session:
Taxi squad players have a role
Laviolette has made it clear he values the taxi squad, so Sunday’s scrimmage was an important opportunity to evaluate some of those players. The taxi squad will consist of four to six players who are not on the active roster but are available to be called up in the event of a coronavirus outbreak.
Laviolette mentioned defenseman Martin Fehervary, a candidate for a taxi squad spot, as a standout during the team’s first scrimmage Thursday, and Fehervary continued to impress Sunday.
“There are going to be things that come up, and we will need a deep roster, deep squad, and while not everybody is getting a crack in the first group, there will be guys in the second group playing games for us this year,” Laviolette said.
Center Connor Mcmichael is another prospect who could be designated to the taxi squad. The Capitals’ 2019 first-round draft pick arrived in Washington over the weekend after playing for Canada at the world junior championships in Edmonton. He is in mandatory quarantine and will not be able to practice with the team before it leaves for Buffalo, but the hope is to work him in with the group once it returns.
Vrana is poised for a big year
Jakub Vrana could benefit from Laviolette’s high-tempo system, using his natural speed to his advantage. The 24-year-old’s strong skating has been on display during multiple training camp sessions.
Vrana got a couple of nice scoring chances during Sunday’s scrimmage, including a clear breakaway and a penalty shot, but he couldn’t find the back of the net.
Vrana set career highs in goals the past two seasons, tallying 24 during the 2018-19 campaign and 25 in 2019-20.
His usage on the second powerplay unit — which puts him in position to shoot more often — also could boost his numbers this season.
Sprong makes his case
Daniel Sprong, 23, joined the Capitals’ main group of skaters Saturday for the first time — pushing offseason acquisition Conor Sheary to the second group — and skated on the third line with Lars Eller and Richard Panik.
Sprong remained with that unit Sunday, and Sheary skated with depth players Philippe Maillet and Daniel Carr. Sprong stood out during the scrimmage and was especially noticeable when moving the puck along the boards.
“I think all around the league a lot of young guys want those preseason games, but because of those covid rules and everything, it’s safety first,” Sprong said. “These scrimmages are important for everyone, and you just try to do your best and showcase your skill set.”
Defensemen fight for spots
The Capitals’ blue line is crowded, so these scrimmages have been crucial for Jonas Siegenthaler and Fehervary to prove they deserve a chance to contribute. Fehevrary looked good defensively and offensively Sunday, with a couple of scoring opportunities that missed the mark.
Siegenthaler, 23, appears to have been pushed out of the lineup with the addition of Chara, but he knows he has a lot to show and acknowledges he hasn’t reached his potential.
“It’s obvious: Everybody’s kind of fighting for a spot,” Siegenthaler said. “At the end of the day, we’re friends, but you want to compete for the spot and you want to play as much games as you can. I’m just going out there trying to do my best. At the end of the day, I want to play those games. I want to start the season [on] opening night. That’s my goal.”
Anderson sees improvement
Craig Anderson appeared to have a better performance Sunday afternoon after noticeably struggling in the first scrimmage. The veteran goaltender stopped three or four high-danger chances in a six-minute span in the first 20-minute period, including Vrana’s partial breakaway.
Anderson, 39, signed a professional tryout agreement with the Capitals before training camp, and coronavirus protocols will require all teams to keep at least three goaltenders on their active roster and taxi squad this season. Vitek Vanecek appears to have the inside track to be the backup to Ilya Samsonov, but Pheonix Copley and Anderson are in the mix.
“Coming into camp here, it’s more or less put the work boots on, almost put the horse blinders on and get the work boots on,” Anderson said. “Pretty much all you can do is come in, greet everybody, be polite, try to get your feet wet.”