The Washington Capitals’ performance Sunday in a 4-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks may have looked like a team coming together from the outside. It seemed like with most of the regulars in the lineup, this was a good dress rehearsal for a team eager to play in games that really count.
But to coach Bruce Boudreau, maybe his players were too anxious to move on with it.
“I thought it was a pretty sloppy game, quite frankly,” he said. “I thought this was almost like two teams waiting for the preseason to end, and they only brought half their team. I thought it was a sloppy game. But I think it was more like, let’s not get hurt in this one.”
Chicago didn’t look sharp — it’s hard to argue that — but it was without Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith, among others. The sloppiness for the Caps stemmed from power-play woes and perhaps some offensive stagnation.
Though the scoreboard showed a decisive victory that made Washington 3-3-1 in the preseason, a couple players agreed with the notion that this is a group ready to move on.
“I think no matter what, you are ready to get the preseason done and get the regular season [started], where it means something,” left wing Jason Chimera said. “It’s good to get these things done.”
Bright spots weren’t hard to find, either, from the strong play of the Chimera-Brooks Laich-Joel Ward third line to goaltender Michal Neuvirth and the stringent penalty kill.
No matter how well Neuvirth plays — and he was on top of his game Sunday, making 28 stops on 29 shots — he won’t be “the man” for the Caps. That designation belongs to Tomas Vokoun, but on this night the 23-year-old showed glimpses of the guy who was a playoff starter last spring.
“I won two games and I’m pretty happy with my training camp. Bruce announces Tomas is the No. 1 — it doesn’t really bother me,” Neuvirth said. “I’m just going to wake up tomorrow and work hard and if I get the call, I’ll be ready.”
All over the ice it was easy to see why Boudreau put a speedster like Chimera with a reliable guy like Laich and a physical player in Ward. They controlled the play often and even chipped in a goal, as Ward fed Laich for a perfect wrist shot.
“I think the biggest thing was keeping [Patrick] Kane and those guys off the score sheet. For the most part, we did a good job tonight,” Chimera said. “They didn’t get much five-on-five. We scored a goal, which is a bonus.”
Sunday’s game was a preview of what The Hockey News predicted will be the Stanley Cup Final. If the playoffs happened in the fall, it’s hard to imagine either of these teams would be on that kind of a roll — but that’s not the case.
“We didn’t play like Stanley Cup champions all preseason,” Boudreau said. “But we got through it.”
Another bright spot was the play of Mathieu Perreault, who again scored (tapping a loose puck in from the crease) and led the Caps in preseason points with five. While Boudreau would like to see Perreault be more consistent, the Caps’ coach hinted at him winning the roster competition and making the team.
“We know what we’re going to do. I think our best player all of camp was Perreault,” he said. “He played with the energy every night. I think he was very similar last year. But we’ll sit down [Monday] and we’ll discuss all of this.”
Also being discussed is the status of defenseman Dmitry Orlov, whose mere presence at this late date is a major surprise of camp.
Plenty of questions will be answered in the coming days — like the opening-day roster — and in the coming months — whether this team can live up to lofty expectations. But for now, the Caps are relieved to be done with the exercise of preseason games.
“I think they’re in shape, I think they’re game-ready and we don’t have any major injuries or suspensions,” Boudreau said. “That’s all positive.”