The Washington Capitals will not hang their Stanley Cup champion banner for another two weeks, but they got in some competitive hockey Tuesday night at Capital One Arena. Stanley Cup-caliber hockey? Well, not quite yet.
The Boston Bruins handled everything Washington tried on the ice and won 5-2 in the Capitals’ first home preseason game of the year. Riley Barber scored in the first period and led the Capitals with nine shots, and Matt Niskanen added a power-play goal.
It was the first preseason action for veterans Braden Holtby, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, while many of the other Capitals players who dressed were rookies and minor leaguers. Most of the Bruins organization is away playing in the NHL International Games in China, so they sent out a lineup of less familiar players.
The Bruins scored early and often, taking a 4-1 lead into the second intermission before the Capitals were able to rebound.
“I think if you look at our first period you could definitely tell that a lot of guys had some nerves, but again it’s your first time playing in a while,” center Travis Boyd said. “Everyone in here gets excited and everyone in here wants to play. Everyone kind of came out a little jittery, but like I said I think our third period was our best and I thought we got better as the game went on.”
Tuesday was also new head coach Todd Reirden’s first time behind the bench at Capital One Arena.
“That was an amazing experience and something I’ve been working hard for for a number of years,” Reirden said, but “it probably won’t dawn on me that much until we get to Oct. 3 (the first regular season game).”
Boston needed less than two minutes to open scoring when winger Cameron Hughes deflected a shot high past Holtby’s reach. But the Capitals came back with a goal in the fifth minute of action.
2018 first-round pick Alexander Alexeyev fed Barber in the slot. With his back to the net, Barber had to lift his right skate and re-directed the puck under his legs, over the goalie’s shoulder, off the bottom of the crossbar and in.
Barber, who last saw NHL regular season action two season ago, stood out in particular to Reirden.
“I thought he had a really strong showing tonight, (had) a number of opportunities and chances and was able to make a real nice play on the first goal,” Reirden said. “I liked his game in particular. He’s someone that was able to show us a little bit more of an offensive flair than maybe he has done in the past.”
Later, Bruins forward Jakub Lauko was sent to the box for holding, but the Capitals fell flat on the power-play chance. Lauko scooped up the puck when he left the box for a breakaway goal in the final minute of the first period.
Goalie Ilya Samsonov, the Capitals’ first-round draft pick in 2015, came on for Holtby mid-second period to make his preseason debut. He went on to save seven shots, but only after allowing a goal just a few seconds into his ice time. He made a stick save on Boston’s Zach Senyshyn, but Senyshyn snagged the rebound and rifled it behind Samsonov’s back.
Senyshyn struck again in the final minute of the second from the right circle. Capitals defender Colby Williams appeared to catch the shot in the crease, but if he did, he didn’t hold on and the puck fell in.
A Boston tripping penalty at the start of the third let the Capitals back in the game. During the power play, Niskanen received a loose puck in the left circle and slapped it home.
But that was all the Capitals could muster, even though they went on three more power plays in the final frame. Boston’s Sean Kuraly added an empty-net goal in the final minute.
Backstrom and Oshie played with rookie forward Axel Jonsson-Fjallby on the top line. The veterans had to use the opportunity to knock off their rust without overshadowing other players, who were either competing to make the 23-man roster or looking to get comfortable in their preseason debuts.
“You try to play a good game and hopefully that feeds into (Jonsson-Fjallby’s) game,” Oshie said. “I think some of my mishandles early maybe hindered his opportunities in the first two periods. But in the third he was flying. Even the first two periods he was going pretty good. In practice for sure, and tonight, he can really fly.”
The Capitals have off Wednesday and travel to Quebec City, Canada, for their next preseason contest against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday.