- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Capitals’ final home preseason game Wednesday against the New Jersey Devils was a dress rehearsal, of sorts, considering the lineup was the closest to what the team will trot out during the regular season.

Given how hard it can be to judge the preseason, the game also figured to be a litmus test for the Capitals. Up until then, Washington’s problems were difficult to get a read on.

Were the slow starts displayed in previous games a matter of not having a full roster? Is this team going to have trouble scoring the puck? 

After a 4-1 loss to the Devils, the answers still aren’t clear. But the problems mirrored similar outings in the preseason despite a more talented roster.

The Capitals (1-4) have just two five-on-five goals in five preseason games. They’ve given up seven first-period goals — including four in Wednesday’s loss. The staggering number of penalties continue to be an issue.



“We never want to come out and say, ‘Oh things didn’t go our way, we didn’t really do too much, but it’s the preseason and move on,’” defenseman John Carlson said. “It’s obviously not the end of the world. … But we’ve got to pick it up and do the things we know how to do.”

Capitals coach Barry Trotz said the issues boil down to slow starts at home.

“The biggest disappointment is that we haven’t found our game,” Trotz said, adding he still had faith.

Trotz said a lot of passes are being missed and they aren’t getting production out of their top players yet. “Some of our decisions are weak, if you will,” he said.

The roster, though, is rounding into shape.

Washington’s top six featured lines of Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Brett Connolly and Andre Burakovsky-Nicklas Backstrom-T.J. Oshie. Matt Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov, the Capitals’ top defensive pairing, started again.

Washington will have final decisions to make before their season opens on Oct. 5 in Ottawa. Forward Tyler Graovac continued to make an impression, scoring the Capitals’ only goal against the Devils, and played well next to Jay Beagle.

Defenseman Madison Bowey also had a strong showing in 22:29 of ice time, third most of any Capitals player. He was paired next to Brooks Orpik and played plenty on the penalty kill.

Whether the Capitals keep 22 or 23 players needs to be determined, especially considering the team’s tight salary cap situation. At practice, Trotz said he was unsure if the numbers would work for 23, which involves keeping 14 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies.

The Capitals have two exhibition games remaining.

“We’re using these games as preparation to move into the regular season,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “Obviously, the results and the way we’ve played haven’t been what we’re expecting. That’s not a reason to panic. That’s a reason to work harder.”

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