A big question at Washington Capitals training camp this week is whether there will be a noticeable difference between those who played overseas and those who stayed, but many at camp on Sunday said they may need to wait until actual games to find out.
It is such a tough stretch for Caps players this week, with the lockout-shortened season only allowing them to have one week to prepare for the NHL season. Not only do they need to learn a new coaching philosophy and acclimate to a new set of players, but they also have to get their legs under them. Of course, every player has to do the first two, but as of right now it doesn’t seem like there is a major difference between players who played overseas and those who stayed in North America, in terms of getting their legs back.
“I probably will get a better indication tomorrow to see how the guys feel the day after,” head coach Adam Oates said after practice. “Some guys played games, some guys have been off a lot, they have been skating. Sometimes the first day your adrenaline gets you through the day.”
Over five different Washington Capitals players played during the NHL lockout. Of the most high profile, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom played in the KHL, while Braden Holtby found himself between the pipes back in Hershey. Meanwhile guys like Marcus Johansson and Brooks Laich found work in some of the lesser European leagues and Joey Crabb even played in the ECHL.
Karl Alzner was one of the players who opted not to sign a contract elsewhere and said it was hard to tell the difference between the two groups on the ice.
“I’m trying to think here. I haven’t noticed a whole lot of difference. Maybe come actual game time we’ll see who is still breathing good and who is breathing heavy,” Alzner said. “I know a lot of guys have been saying how tough things have been or might feel like they are breathing a little heavier than normal, but I haven’t seen a lot of huge differences, but that doesn’t become obvious until we actually play.”
With less than a week until their first actual game, some of those guys might not have a ton of time to get that breathing figured out. Ultimately though, it is going to be hard for any player to handicap how others are doing, since they are so concerned with their own fitness and stamina. Holtby, who is able to see the whole ice during practice, echoed that sentiment.
“You know, I might be able to tell in a week or so,” Holtby said. “Right now I am just right now focused on stopping the puck not on other guys too much.”
One of the newest Capitals, Cam Schilling, summed up best how there may not be much of a difference between the two groups of players.
“It helps conditioning-wise, but other than that I think guys have been skating quite a bit,” Schilling said. “It’s just going to take them a couple practices to be completely sharp and everything.”
Whether it will take a couple practices or not to get sharp, that is the only option the Caps have with just five more days of ice time before they head to Tampa on Saturday. If there is an edge to be gained from playing during the lockout, the Caps have it with so many players signing other contracts. As of right now though, the league will just have to wait and see if those who shipped off are truly better off.