Nicklas Backstrom had a strong opening night for the Caps. He had two beautiful assists, a 59 percent shot attempt percentage, and won 69 percent of the draws he took. Barry Trotz was thrilled with the way his second line played. Backstrom was the driving force behind the success.
Backstrom’s assist on the Caps’ second goal was what I kept going back to when re-watching parts of the game. From the patience and vision shown, to the execution of the pass, this play was a perfect example of what makes Backstrom one the the NHL’s best centers.
With just over a minute remaining in the second period of the Caps’ 3-2 shootout loss to the Pens, Evgeni Malkin found himself in all alone with Braden Holtby, with enough time to make a sandwich and have half a cup of tea. Malkin, as the world’s best players do when given glorious chances, scored to give the Pens a 2-1 lead as the second period wound down.
There were a couple decisions that led to Malkin’s opportunity. The two main parties involved were Dmitry Orlov and TJ Oshie. Which player is more to blame for the goal depends on how you read their decision-making. Let’s take a closer look.
Most people didn’t expect Zach Sanford to make the Capitals roster out of training camp about one month ago, especially if they had not had the pleasure of seeing him play in development camp or the South Florida Rookie Tournament. I had Sanford ranked eighth among current Caps prospects before camp. Despite the long odds, Sanford had enough positive performances in the preseason to prove to the coaches that he not only deserved to make the roster, but he may also start the season on the Capitals’ revamped third line.
Opening night is fast approaching and the Washington Capitals’ roster is taking shape, especially on the defensive end where there were no personnel changes during the offseason. However, it appears that a fairly significant change is coming to the back-end pairings. Dmitry Orlov will begin the season paired with John Carlson on the second unit while Nate Schmidt will start the season with Brooks Orpik. Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzer will remain together as the team’s shtudown pair.
Moving Orlov up in the pecking order to play with Carlson suggests that the the Caps are comfortable placing a greater deal of trust in him. Trust in a defenseman means putting him on the ice for big minutes and game-breaking situations, and believing that the good will outweigh the bad in both zones.
Let’s take a look at which of last year’s defensive pairs were the most utilized and trusted in terms of deployments, and how much that might have to change with Orlov no longer on the third pair.
Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt had a goal and an assist in his preseason debut against the Islanders, Saturday. Most notably, Schmidt was aggressive, joining the Caps’ offensive attack whenever he could.
The preseason is a great time for the coaching staff to experiment and try new things – like the team’s decision to shift center Zach Sanford to the wing. So usually it’s not wise to read much into the team’s strategy, especially early in the preseason.
Except in this case where we should totally read into what we’re seeing.
On Thursday, the Caps used lines that look reasonably close to what could be an opening night lineup. And indeed, assistant coach Todd Reirden confirmed that the lines are a potential preview of how the Caps will line up when the season opens:
On these lines, Reirden basically said they're legit (and they'll continue experimenting) https://t.co/MVU3KGLN0R
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) September 29, 2016
While plenty can change between now and the start of the season, and the lines will certainly change throughout the season, the particular lines the Caps used Thursday can help give a glimpse into a lineup the coaching staff is thinking of using this season.
For the purpose of this series, a prospect will be defined as an under-25 player in the Capitals system who was not on the team’s roster for the majority of last season. This allows us to focus on guys who many know little about. You will not see players like Stan Galiev, Philipp Grubauer, or Andre Burakovsky on this list.
Earlier this week, we took a look at all the Caps’ prospects that didn’t make the top 10. Today, we’re diving into the bottom half of the top 10. Here’s a look at prospects 10 through six.
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