With the standing-room only crowd and newness of Sunday’s beginning of training camp behind them, the Capitals Monday began to work on installing Adam Oates’ new system and also a bit testing the team’s conditioning.
In front of a decent-sized crowd for a workday Monday morning at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, the Caps worked on puck control drills as well as doing some laps that left most players hunched over or resting on their knee after the drill was completed.
One of the few players who didn’t appear to be winded during the drill was Karl Alzner. But the defenseman said afterwards looks can be deceiving.
“I’ve been working out a lot this extended off-season,” he said. “I feel pretty good out there. The thing is, even if I’m tired out there, I don’t like to show it. It’s one of those things my trainer told me. But I’m sure all the guys will be just fine.”
With just six days for training camp and no preseason games, Alzner said he expected it might take some time for players to fully get back into game shape.
“It’ll take at least a few games to get back there,” he said. “[There's] nothing you can do off the ice that’s the same as on the ice. It’s impossible.
“We’re at the point right now where we can’t afford to bang ourselves up. You got to wait, get more ice time.”
As for Oates’ new system, Alzner said it was more like the early days of Bruce Boudreau’s wide-open style than last year’s tight defensive style utilized under first Boudreau and then Dale Hunter.
“It’s really learning the system, being more aggressive, but doing it in a smart way, being in the right spot,” he said when asked to describe it.
“It’s just more closing gaps quicker, not letting other team skate through the neutral zone – at all. It’ll be more like the Capitals of three or four years ago than the Capitals of the last 1 1/2 years. Probably pretty entertaining game to watch.”
Oates himself described his new system as “very similar” to the one his head coach Pete DeBoer used in New Jersey, and emphasized how important it was in the system to keep the blueliners healthy.
“The system is based on keeping the defense from taking as much contact as possible,” he said. “They’re the lifeblood of the team, I really believe that. They obviously help us in our own end, they got to help the forwards score. The way teams backcheck now, the defense is vital to us.”
One other topic emerging in the first days of camp is the team’s goaltending situation, as it is expected after his run in last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, Braden Holtby will be the team’s No. 1 starter out of camp.
“I would say I think the guys expect Holts to be in the net based on last year.”
However, he did expect both goaltenders to get a lot of use with the compact schedule.
“48 games, I think both guys are going to play a lot,” Oates said, adding “when a guy’s playing well, he should play.”
Oates also added it was a good problem for a team to have.
“I got two young kids, they’re very good goalies,” Oates said. “I was just in New Jersey with Marty Brodeur where [who the No. 1 is] wasn’t a question, so we all know it. Circumstances are different.”
Neuvirth was asked about the goaltending situation in Washington and his expectations.
“It’s hard to say, he played last year in the playoffs and he deserves to start this season and if he will, I’ll cheer for him,” Neuvirth said.
He did say he’d try to make his mark whenever he got a chance to start.
“Play good, bring myself, whenever I get a chance, I want to play good,” he said.
“Even you’ve got 48 games, that’s still a lot of games, ups and downs, anything can happen.”
Roster-wise, with Brooks Laich not taking part in the main group and Tom Poti rehabbing in Hershey, the team has 24 players in camp with 23 allowed once the opening-night roster is set. Should Laich and Poti not be ready to start the year, the team could opt to return Tom Wilson to Plymouth of the OHL or Cameron Schilling to Hershey to get to the 23-man limit, or both should one of the two be ready for the regular season.
Sunday night, Poti scored a goal pinching in from the point in his first game in the AHL, and hopes he will get a chance to play in his hometown of Worcester, Mass. on Wednesday for Hershey.
“Then after that,” Poti told the Patriot-News’ Tim Leone, “we’ll kind of make a decision and see what’s going to happen.”