August 10, 2022

Washington Capitals Preseason Game 7: Caps win 6-3 in Friday fight night against Flyers

The latest preseason fashion seems to be fights, fights, and more fights. That didn’t change Friday night, where there were 5 total fights. At least we were spared a line brawl, but tensions flared from the puck drop to final whistle.

All told, there were  103 total  penalty minutes between the Capitals and the Flyers, including a blindside hit on Mikhail Grabovski by Flyers tough guy Zac Rinaldo that will almost certainly result in some type of discipline from the NHL.

Grabovski told reporters he saw Rinaldo coming, but it was too late to react. He was able to regroup and assist on Tom Wilson’s goal later in the game.

Interestingly enough, Wilson told reporters he “grew up watching” Grabovski play. “I know how talented of a player he is, it was nice to be on the receiving end of that pass.”

Eric Fehr continued his preseason scoring run Friday night against the Philadelphia Flyers, a deflection in the first period that beat goalie Ray Emery, who left the cage to play the puck, inadvertently passing it to the Capitals’ Mathieu Perreault. Perreault sent the puck over to Connor Carrick, who fed it to Fehr, who tapped it in while Emery was still out of position.

Alex Ovechkin scored from his wheelhouse on the power play in the first period, and Tom Wilson punched in an easy layup off Grabovski’s slick pass to make it 3-0 in the second.

The Flyers would even the score before the end of the second period with goals by Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds. No need for panic over the blown lead late in the 2nd- the Caps only dressed one of their regular defensemen Friday night, and the Flyers iced basically their regular season starting roster, minus Jakub Voracek.

In the third, Eric Fehr scored his second goal of the night, assisted by Connor Carrick, who had a three-assist night. Fehr also assisted on Ovechkin’s second power play goal.

The Capitals were able to inch ahead in the third after Fehr and Ovechkin’s tallies, winning 6-3 after an empty-net goal from Mathieu Perreault, who has played in only three of the Capitals’ seven preseason games.

” We found the groove right away,” said Perreault. “Getting a goal on the first shift gets you going.”

“We kind of slowed ourselves down in the second with all the penalties and fighting, so we got back to what we were doing in the first in the third, and we did a good job.”

Washington Capitals Preseason Game 6: Grabovski shines in preseason action, Caps win 4-1

Preseason performance doesn’t mean a whole lot for a guy who already knows he’s on the team, but Mikhail Grabovski has already shown some good things in the two games he’s played as a Washington Capital.

Both games were multi-point games — two assists against the Boston Bruins, and three at home at Verizon Center against the Nashville Predators. That’s five assists in six periods. Not bad at all. Granted, he’s been playing against many non-roster players, but you can’t overlook Grabovski’s performance because of that.

If not for Grabovski, Eric Fehr wouldn’t have had quite the night he did, scoring two goals on Predators goalie Carter Hutton, both assisted by Grabovski.

Grabovski also assisted on Alex Ovechkin’s tally on the power play. Pekka Rinne and Shea Weber weren’t in the line up for Nashville tonight, but coach Adam Oates was pleased with Grabovski’s play overall, even against weaker competition.

“He’s a good hockey player. He fits into our puzzle,” he told reporters after the game, full of praise for the center. “He skates very well, he’s a tough player.”

Martin Erat quite literally faced off against his former team, the Predators, this evening. Tonight marked his first game trying out the center position at the coaxing of Oates, who had previously conducted the experiment with Eric Fehr at center.

Fehr, who played on the wing tonight,  said he doesn’t think Oates is finished tinkering with positional assignments for either of them. There’s still plenty of time to play around with things before the season starts for real, though.

It would be easy to see Fehr staying on the wing: his speed lends him to that position, but Oates may be planning to alternate playing him there and at center on an as-needed basis throughout the season.

The Capitals are now 3-2 in the preseason after defeating the Predators 4-1 on home ice. They’ll take on the Philadelphia Flyers at Verizon Center on Friday night, before heading off to Chicago to play their final preseason game against the Blackhawks, just two days before they open the season in Chicago on October 1.

Washington Capitals 2013-14 Position Preview: Center

For years, Capitals fans have been clamoring for General Manager George McPhee to do something about that pesky second-line center problem. For a while, it seemed like Marcus Johansson was being groomed for that spot, until Mike Ribiero was signed during the summer of 2012. Ribiero looked like the answer, and for a few short months, he was.

He found chemistry with Alex Ovechkin, served admirably with Troy Brouwer on the second line, and greatly contributed to the success on the Capitals’ power play. He was crafty, he was smart – a playmaker. He also wanted a long-term contract, but McPhee and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis weren’t willing to offer that.

Back to square one, right? No, back to Brooks Laich. “He’s our guy,” said McPhee in July, expressing confidence in his current roster. Several weeks later, Toronto Maple Leafs casualty Mikhail Grabovski signed with the Capitals.

Mikhail Grabovski:

Bought out by Toronto, Grabovski is the frontrunner for the second-line center spot this season, and the answer for a problem that seems to crop up every summer, though not necessarily a long-term solution, since his contract is only for one year. His 2013 season was less than stellar (9g, 7a), but that was more a product of less ice time and not being properly utilized by Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle and less a reflection of his ability. Adam Oates has plans for him to play alongside Troy Brouwer, and he will skate for the first time at Kettler Tuesday morning, after visa issues stranded him in Toronto for most of Capitals training camp. It would be interesting to see what he’s able to contribute to the power play, too.

Nicklas Backstrom:

Backstrom is a mainstay on the Capitals’ top line, and is arguably the best player on the team at any given time. Ovechkin’s goal-scoring streak in the last part of the 2013 season was, in part, fed by Backstrom’s deft hands. Backstrom’s role will probably not differ much from what’s been expected of him in the past. He’s pretty good at what he does. He had a bit of a quiet year in 2013, but look for him to bounce back to his old numbers. He’s due for a comeback this season, and playing with Ovechkin never did any harm to anyone, either. Just as Marcus Johansson.

Mathieu Perreault:

The spunky Quebecois center, who finished with a career-high 16 goals in 2011-12 (his first career hat trick that season didn’t hurt) and 6 goals last season, is a player who always works a little bit harder than everyone else, and it shows. He’s not a top-line player, but holds his own on the Capitals fourth “energy” line (a term Oates would like to steer away from), with guys like Joel Ward and Aaron Volpatti. If we’re lucky, we’ll get to see more of his wacky victory celebrations from the bench this season.

Jay Beagle:

During the 2013 lockout, Beagle worked with skating coach Wendy Marco to improve his skating prowess – and it showed. He was quicker and more agile for a player of his skill level. Typically a fourth-line grinder, Beagle’s role evolved to a shutdown center over the last few years, toughing it out with Matt Hendricks and Joel Ward. Things might look a little different on the bottom-six once the season starts, though. Oates is experimenting with Eric Fehr centering the third line in preseason, and if that project works, it could certainly change Beagle’s role in the long run.

Grabovski signing allows Caps to be creative with line combos

The Washington Capitals move to bring in center Mikhail Grabovski this week will send ripples down – and maybe even up – the Caps active roster, and may even prevent a top prospect from breaking camp with the team. But the bottom line is that they are better equipped today to deal with the rigors of an 82-game schedule than they were when the free agency period opened up, or perhaps at any point last season.

Grabovski has strong puck-possession numbers for his career and makes players around him better. The numbers are there to consider, if math doesn’t scare you. In fact, his puck-possession numbers are so much better than the player he takes the place of, the departed Mike Ribeiro (or anyone else on the Caps’ current roster that could fill the second-line center position) that the upgrade in that area should make the loss of Ribeiro’s supreme passing skills negligible.

For the sake of this discussion, we’re going to assume Caps GM George McPhee and Marcus Johansson’s representatives work out a deal to bring the slick-skating Swede back into the fold. There isn’t a whole lot of cap space available after Karl Alzner’s new deal and Grabo’s contract, but there still is some dead weight McPhee can trim to fir Johansson into the salary structure.

So, even though D.C. is still under a blanket of summer humidity and the chill of Kettler’s air conditioning for training camp doesn’t start for a few weeks, let’s take a look at how some of the line combinations might work with the addition of the Caps newest play-driving center.

Here’s a handy infographic of my interpretation of the Caps lines and we’ll discuss them below.

LW

C

RW

Marcus Johansson

Nick Backstrom

Alex Ovechkin

Martin Erat

Mikhail Grabovski

Troy Brouwer

Jason Chimera

Brooks Laich

Joel Ward

Mathieu Perreault

Jay Beagle

Eric Fehr

Aaron Volpatti

Michael Latta

Tom Wilson

Brandon Segal

I think the top line is set in stone, with the caveat that McPhee gets Johansson under contract, something he indicated in his press conference Friday morning was still in the works, but that the right deal had to get done. It will get done.

The second line, as constructed here, should be a quality second scoring option for the Caps this upcoming season. Erat had a rough go of it at the end of last season, not really fitting in immediately after the trade, then getting hurt and missing out on the playoffs. But he’s a quality skater with good hands and should bounce back with solid – and regular – linemates. Troy Brouwer, on the other side, is coming off a real nice season goal-scoring wise. His 19 goals (in just 47 games in the lockout-shortened season) were second most in his career and should find many more quality opportunities at regular strength with this group.

The third line is the “lunchpail” group. If Laich is indeed going to play center, he profiles much better on the third line with similar grinders than he does in the top six where he would be expected to contribute more to scoring. With Chimera’s speed, and the work ethic of the three across the board, this line should see plenty of ice time against the top lines in the newly formed Metropolitan Division. In addition, Laich and Ward should see top duty on the penalty kill as well, and grouping them together on a skating line makes more sense than breaking the two apart on different lines.

The fourth line becomes something of a mish-mash though. Of the veterans available to pick from, Mathieu Perreault and Eric Fehr profile more as scorers than fourth line muckers. At least, that’s their pedigree. Jay Beagle is a defense first (and only) center and isn’t really the best pivot for the other two. But all have established themselves as NHL players and it would be surprising to see any left off the team in favor of the players in the next group – unless a player is moved between now and the start of camp, which is entirely possible considering the logjam of forwards and the salary cap ramifications.

Aaron Volpatti and Brandon Segal are fourth-line journeymen. Both are relatively capable in their low-leverage assignments but have very limited ceilings and should be valued as such. Michael Latta, the other player acquired with Erat in exchange for top prospect Filip Forsberg, can play. Just 22, he brings skill and toughness and carries himself bigger than his 6’0, 213 frame.

Many would like to see Tom Wilson, the 19-year-old  6’4″, 210 winger the Caps called up during the playoffs to add toughness against the New York Rangers, make the team out of camp. But the Caps seem to have enough depth now that they don’t have to have him in D.C. this season.

Eventually, Beagle, Latta and Wilson could combine to form a formidable and punishing fourth line for this organization, something that the team has been missing since the Bradley-Steckel-Gordon combo was broken up several seasons ago.

With the addition of Grabovski, the Capitals now have better forward depth and multiple choices of how to line up those forwards. Before, forcing Laich into a second line role caused second-guessing and questions throughout the line-up. This team might not have moved to the top of the list of Stanley Cup candidates with the acquisition of one second line center, but it certainly made for a more solid NHL roster from top to bottom – at least from the aspect of the forward lines.

Capitals add veteran center Mikhail Grabovski

The Washington Capitals announced Friday morning the signing of center Mikhail Grabovski to a one-year, $3 million deal. Grabovski, 29, had 16 points (nine goals, seven assists) and 24 PIMs in 48 tumultuous games with Toronto last season. In 2011-12, the Belorussian center recorded 23 goals and 28 assists with the Leafs, ranking third in both categories.

“Mikhail adds speed and offense to our lineup, and we are very pleased to have him sign with the Capitals,” said Caps GM George McPhee through a team press release. “We believe he will be an excellent addition to our club.”

Grabovski fills a void left by the departure of Mike Ribeiro, who signed with the Phoenix Coyotes immediately after the free agent period opened last month.

As our friends over at Russian Machine and Japers Rink so aptly and thoroughly described, Grabovski might not put up top-of-the-leaderboard point totals, but he is particularly adept at driving play and making players around him better, and will help the Capitals tremendously in puck possession from the second line center position, theoretically lining up with Martin Erat and Troy Brouwer.

Grabovski’s arrival will have a ripple effect throughout the Caps lineup. It allows coach Adam Oates to slide Brooks Laich into the 3C slot, a much more natural position for him and a more comfortable grouping with Joel Ward, a fellow penalty killer, and Jason Chimera on the wings.

The signing does not come without warning though. Grabovski has had his share of on- and off-ice problems, including a feud with Randy Carlyle, his coach last season, that saw his role and ice time diminish, resulting in the Leafs buying out Grabovski under the contract amnesty clause of the CBA once the season finished.

But his arrival in Washington provides Grabovski with a clean slate, and considering his age, experience and contract status, he should be plenty motivated this season to play hard, keep his nose clean, and put up good numbers in order to secure a long-term contract once the season ends, whether he’s retained here in D.C. or he hits the open market once again.

Grabovski is scheduled to meet the Caps press this afternoon via teleconference, and District Sports Page will update this story as more information becomes available.

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