Jamie Hunt had a pair of goals to help pace Team Blue to a 7-3 win over Team White in the Capitals’ development camp scrimmage finale today at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Saturday’s tilt took on a different format from the previous three; the game was played in “traditional” fashion with three 20-minute periods and no running clock. Penalties were called for the first time all week, too.
Michal Neuvirth started in goal for White, and Simeon Varlamov for Blue. White dominated the first couple of shifts and got on the board first when Andrew Gordon potted one with help from Andrew Joudrey at 1:08. Less than two minutes later, Dylan Yeo evened the score for Blue. Andrew Glass made a quick transition out of a turnover in his own end, quickly recognizing that he had a 2-on-1 with the potential for a 3-on-1. Glass skated swiftly up the ice and spotted the alert Yeo driving the net. He saucered a perfect pass across that Yeo converted to make it 1-1.
Blue took a 2-1 lead on a power play goal midway through the first frame. After winning an offensive zone draw, Blue moved the puck around expertly. All five players touched the puck in a span of about 30 seconds, and eventually Stephen Werner found and fed Dan Kronick for an open shot on net and a goal.
My nine-year-old required nourishment after the first period, and the Ballston elevators conspired to make us miss the first half of the second period before we returned with food. Two goals were missed in the process, one by each team. Reliable sources tell me that the Blue goal was a masterful pass from Nicklas Backstrom to Francois Bouchard, who drove home the perfectly threaded feed. Josh Godfrey scored the White tally, driving home one of his patented point blasts.
Just after the conclusion of a White power play late in the second, Blue scored to open up a 4-2 lead. Jamie Hunt took the puck for Blue and skated down on a mini-breakaway. He beat Sean Collins, who had been out for most of the White power play and was a bit gassed. Hunt went to the net and scored from short range.
Hunt scored again in the third. This one was a rifle of a wrister from the high slot that went into a teacup high on the glove side.
Jay Beagle scored to bring White within a pair at 5-3, going in on a breakaway and making a nice deke before lifting a backhander into the top of the cage. Glass restored Team Blue’s three-goal lead when he capped off his 18th birthday with a goal that made it 6-3. That goal came at the end of a good shift from Glass, and was the result of some strong perseverance on his part.
There was a late empty-netter to lift Blue’s margin to 7-3, but I can’t recall who authored it. Nice to see the boys shaking hands at center ice at game’s end, too.
You’ve heard it all week from myself and other observers, but Mathieu Perreault oozes skill. He made a terrific little backhand pass through traffic to Kronick. Neuvirth made the save on the resulting shot, but it was a great play nonetheless.
Werner had a good game, particularly on special teams.
Joe Finley left the game with a minor groin injury after the first period. His departure left Blue a defender short, but the team’s defensemen adjusted well to the extra ice time and the rotating cast of partners.
Finley came to camp with the reputation of a big guy with a mean streak, a physical defenseman with decent mobility. That’s all true. But I have also been impressed by other aspects of his game. He has a heavy shot that he gets on goal, and he knows when and when not to use it. For a guy with one goal in his two college seasons, he looks remarkably comfortable on the power play. I even noticed him directing traffic on a Blue power play in the first period, pointing a puck carrier to an open man with a wave of his glove.
Collins has decent “back door” instincts on the power play. He is always looking to jump into an opening and go toward the net for a one-time opportunity, a la vintage Sergei Gonchar.
Bouchard and Backstrom showed some serious chemistry together this week. They scored a few goals, and Neuvirth made a great stop to deny Bouchard late in the first.
Daren Machesney was excellent for Blue on this day. He made a terrific paddle save on Paul Crowder late in the second, one of his many good stops.
There were some Backstrom naysayers earlier in the week, those impatient types ready to proclaim him unfit for NHL duty on the basis of one underwhelming (to them) summer development camp scrimmage before his 20th birthday. (What percentage of his eventual career is that going to work out to??) To those who would listen, I mentioned that I thought he would only get better as camp wore on and bodies wore down. Today, Backstrom provided some sweet vindication. Check’s in the mail, Nick.
There was some chippiness in today’s tilt. Those who have seen Viktor Dovgan play for South Carolina and/or Hershey know that he specializes in getting under opponents’ skin with his physical play, and he raised the ire of a few opponents today. I also noted some jousting between some Ontario and Quebec guys on a few occasions, most notably the OHL’s Justin Taylor and the QMJHL’s Francois Bouchard late in the third period.
One of the commenters on this blog asked about the optimism that seems so prevalent at this year’s camp. The writer wondered whether the optimism was well-founded or not. I have to admit I have found myself with similar thoughts these last few days.
I find myself more optimistic about the Capitals’ long-term goaltending situation after having seen Neuvirth and Varlamov for the first time. Neuvirth wants to play pro and may not have anything left to prove in the OHL. Varlamov likely needs more work on technique and could take longer to develop. It’s far too soon to tell for sure on either one, but both clearly have strong potential.
The group of defensemen here this week seem to be more pro-ready than the forwards, and that’s to be expected. Many of the forwards (including the likes of Brett Bruneteau, Phil DeSimone and Glass) have yet to play college hockey while several of the blueliners have some pro experience on one side of the Big Pond or the other. And even the youngest defensemen (Karl Alzner, Godfrey and Theo Ruth) acquitted themselves extremely well here this week. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Alzner and Godfrey could challenge for jobs in the District this fall.
The format and competitive nature of this camp is a big plus, both for the players and for the evaluators. And I quite honestly believe that this camp was populated by a far more skilled group of players than any I’ve attended in years past.
Also, big thumbs up to the Caps’ new Kettler home. Today’s crowd was tremendous. I drove down from Baltimore with my son, his youth hockey pal Stephen, Stephen’s brother Sean and their dad, Tom. They and all other first-time visitors I escorted around this week were very impressed with the facility, as were the players themselves. And the players made a lot of kids very happy by patiently signing autographs after the completion of all four scrimmages.
I just checked my notes from the Capitals’ 2003 summer camp at Piney Orchard. There were 22 players in attendance that summer, compared to 42 this season. Only 13 of those 22 players in 2003 were Capitals draftees, and the most notable attendees were Steve Eminger, Boyd Gordon and Eric Fehr. This year’s camp featured 30 Caps draftees out of the 42 players in attendance, and included five first-round and four second-round choices.
It’s also worth noting that among players in the Capitals’ organization but not at this week’s camp are Chris Bourque, Eminger, Fehr, Tomas Fleischmann, Gordon, Mike Green, Jakub Klepis, Brooks Laich, Shoane Morrisonn, Alex Ovechkin, Jeff Schultz and Alexander Semin. None of those players has celebrated his 25th birthday yet (Morrisonn is the only one who has reached 24), and the group includes nine more first-rounders and two more second-rounders.
The talent is there, arguably as much young talent as has been in the system at any time in the team’s history. The trick now is to develop the young talent, and fill in around the edges and in the holes where needed. We’re starting to see some of that, too. Hershey has had two straight long playoff runs including a championship. And the Caps brought in three free agents to fill needs earlier this month.
This week’s camp was an oasis in the desert, as my pal John Keeley put it. The next oasis is training camp, still two months away. My feeling is that it can’t get here soon enough. Judging from what I’ve heard from many of you this week, you feel the same.
See you in September, but I’ll be here to kick around whatever needs to be kicked around until then.