The Washington Post

Capitals open training camp with some new faces and the same expectatio­ns

- BY SAMANTHA PELL

The Washington Capitals open training camp Thursday with a Stanley Cup-winning goaltender between the pipes and a slew of returning veterans in tow. Washington will look to lean on this experience­d core and its new netminder to break its disappoint­ing streak of four straight opening-round postseason exits.

The Capitals’ championsh­ip aspiration­s will run in parallel with Alex Ovechkin’s pursuit of the NHL’S all-time goals record. Ovechkin sits in third place with 780, 50 of which came in a surprising­ly strong 2021-22 campaign. Needing only 22 goals to surpass Gordie Howe for second place, Ovechkin will look to employ his combinatio­n of strength and skill and inch closer toward Wayne Gretzky’s hallowed record of 894.

Washington will open its sixgame preseason slate Sunday afternoon at Capital One Arena against the rebuilding Buffalo Sabres. The Capitals’ season opener, at home against the Boston Bruins, is Oct. 12.

Here are five things to watch as training camp unfolds:

Kuemper comes to D.C.

Darcy Kuemper, a salary cap casualty of the Colorado Avalanche’s success last season, arrives as Washington seeks to shore up its most frustratin­g and inconsiste­nt position the past two years. Fresh off signing a five-year, $26.25 million deal in free agency, Kuemper will look to solidify himself as a top-tier NHL goaltender and try to shake the perception that he merely benefited from a role on a juggernaut Avalanche squad.

Kuemper’s backup will be Charlie Lindgren, who was signed this offseason as a free agent after spending last year on a two-way contract with the St. Louis Blues.

Two stars remain out

Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson, two mainstays of Washington’s lineup, will start the year on long-term injured reserve. Backstrom is recovering from offseason hip surgery, and there is no timetable for his return. There is still a chance Backstrom does not play at all this season, but he appears determined to give it another go instead of opting for early retirement.

Wilson continues to recover from ACL surgery on his left knee in May. He was injured in last year’s postseason series against the Florida Panthers. Wilson’s recovery timeline is on track, with the team forecastin­g a potential regular season debut as early as late November.

Hagelin’s future is uncertain

Carl Hagelin’s eye injury in early March led to two surgeries and left his NHL future uncertain. His progress has been promising, but it is unclear whether he will suit up for Washington this season.

The 34-year-old winger spent the summer participat­ing in informal skates and has been wearing a full-contact jersey during group sessions. Hagelin, still listed as injured on the official training camp roster, remains under the care of Washington’s medical staff and has had appointmen­ts and consultati­ons with outside doctors.

Newcomers up front

With Wilson and Backstrom out, Dylan Strome and Connor Brown will have prominent roles as the only two newcomers up front.

Strome, a 25-year-old center, was a solid addition by Washington on the first day of free agency, signing a one-year, $3.5 million deal. He is expected to be the team’s second-line center, but the Capitals probably will try him at center and left wing throughout the preseason.

Brown, 28, is a right winger and could fit anywhere in the lineup, most notably on the top line alongside Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Washington has multiple options for its top-line right winger, with Brown, T. J. Oshie and Conor Sheary the most likely candidates. Brown is also a penalty-killing specialist and will see extended time on that unit.

Mcmichael’s spot in lineup

So much of the talk surroundin­g Washington’s lineup last season revolved around the play of Connor Mcmichael. In his rookie season, the former first-round pick contrasted moments of potential with underwhelm­ing stretches. Mcmichael, 21, played in 68 games, a healthy load for a versatile player still finding his way.

Mcmichael filled in as injuries struck Washington at a staggering pace and showed the coaching staff he can be a natural fit at center when some of the veteran players start to lose their edge.

This year, however, there is no clear-cut spot for Mcmichael in the Capitals’ lineup. Washington has four other centers at its disposal: Kuznetsov, Strome, Lars Eller and Nic Dowd.

If Strome gets moved to the wing, Mcmichael could shift to center. If Eller doesn’t meet expectatio­ns in training camp, he could fall out of favor and be replaced by the youngster. With Backstrom out for a prolonged period of time, Washington has plenty of options to bolster its lineup down the middle, but choosing the right combinatio­n could take some trial and error.

 ?? JONATHAN NEWTON/THE WASHINGTON POST ?? After scoring 50 goals in a surprising­ly strong 2021-22 campaign, Alex Ovechkin sits in third place on the NHL’S all-time goals list.
JONATHAN NEWTON/THE WASHINGTON POST After scoring 50 goals in a surprising­ly strong 2021-22 campaign, Alex Ovechkin sits in third place on the NHL’S all-time goals list.

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