- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 7, 2021

When the Washington Capitals fired coach Todd Reirden following another first-round playoff exit under his leadership, winger T.J. Oshie understood the message being sent.

“I know that the results that we have are unacceptable,” Oshie said. “Kind of the way the hockey world works is usually the coach is the first one to go, and if things don’t change, then the team kind of gets pulled apart.”

So Oshie entered this offseason with an understanding that the expectations in the past haven’t been met, adding an intensity to an already hectic training camp period. Washington has 10 days in camp to learn new coach Peter Laviolette’s system, jell with new teammates and prepare for Jan. 14’s season opener.

That’s a lot to do in a short time frame.

“There definitely has to be a sense of urgency and just a different level of commitment by the players to get where we want to be,” Oshie said. “I think everyone knows where that is.”

Before training camp opened Jan. 3, there was only so much preparation the Capitals could do over Zoom or phone calls. Once the team got on the ice, Laviolette threw his as much of his new system as possible at his players. They focused on 5-on-5 situations first, trusting power plays and penalty kills could be expanded on with time later.

Laviolette wants his squad to play a fast-paced style, keeping pressure in the offensive zone. It’s a system that worked for the coach at his other stops — leading three teams to the Stanley Cup Finals and winning one of them — and expects the veteran-laden Capitals to pick it up quickly.

Thursday’s scrimmage will help with the adjustment period, offering the coaching staff a chance to evaluate which line pairings might stick and how the goaltender competition will play out. Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek received starts in net, but Craig Anderson, Pheonix Copley and Zach Fucale were all set to feature, too.

Plus, new additions featured on the ice for their first semi-competitive runout as a Capital, such as winger Conor Sheary and defenseman Zdeno Chara.

“One of the biggest things is just putting things on the ice, and getting it in front of the players, and letting them do it correctly or do it incorrectly or ask questions or to take video of it and go back and show it at a different point,” Laviolette said. “Once you put it on the table, we can now go to the scrimmages and work on it.”

In a traditional offseason, veteran players might sit out the first couple exhibition games. There are no exhibition opportunities this year, though, ahead of the modified 56-game slate.

That veteran core in Washington may also have extra incentive to come out of the gates firing. Alex Ovechkin, the face of the franchise and one of the best goal scorers of all time, is 35 and out of contract at the end of the year. Center Nicklas Backstrom and Oshie are 33 and 34, respectively.

But the coaching change in the offseason sent a clear message to the players about the consecutive first-round exits from the playoffs. And while the Capitals’ playoff window appears to be narrowing for the core group of players, the team doesn’t see it that way.

“Me personally, I don’t like the window thing,” Backstrom said, “because no one believed we would win in 2018 and we won, so anything can happen out there.”


• Andy Kostka can be reached at akostka@washingtontimes.com.

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