Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hendricks No Surprise to Boudreau

By Scott Lowe
Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau gave the world a heads up about Matt Hendricks at training camp on Tuesday, but his comments didn’t get much play in the media, and apparently the Columbus Blue Jackets didn’t get the hint.

When asked if anyone had surprised him at camp without getting much attention, Boudreau replied, “I really love the way Matt Hendricks plays. I’ve been a big fan of his for about the last five years. He played on a team in Colorado that nobody thought would go anywhere and they ended up with 100 points and in the playoffs. He’s come in here to earn a spot on the team, and so far he’s pushing guys. He’s done a great job.”

Those comments came before Wednesday’s effort by the left winger, who describes his game as adding some “sandpaper” to the Caps’ lineup. If Boudreau loved Hendricks’ game before, imagine what he thinks after the 29-year-old with 60 games of NHL experience recorded a hat trick to lead Washington to a 6-2 victory against Columbus in front of nearly 11,000 in its preseason opener.

“The only thing he could have done a little better was maybe be a little more physical,” Boudreau said. “He killed penalties for us and scored three goals. He’s making a bid for sure.”

Hendricks is making his bid seemingly out of nowhere. After he recorded nine goals and seven assists in 56 contests with the Avalanche last season, his signing with the Capitals in June stayed mostly under the radar as Caps fans and media clamored for the team to sign a big-name defenseman or a second-line center. In fact, his name went largely unreported until Boudreau mentioned him after yesterday’s training camp workout.

“I couldn’t ask for more,” Hendricks said after his three-goal opener in a Washington sweater. “It was a good game all around, obviously. We have to tighten up a little bit defensively. It was a great game for both of our goaltenders. It’s been a while since I’ve done that.”

To this point, the training camp focus has been on which three players would lock down the second- third- and fourth-line center slots. The “third line” of Jason Chimera, Matthieu Perreault and Eric Fehr had been perhaps the most impressive offensive group to date, while second-line center Tomas Fleischmann and left wing Alexander Semin had earned some harsh words from Boudreau who said they were “passing the puck around like it was shinny.” It’s funny how things can change when stakes are raised.

Fleischmann (two goals and an assist) and Semin (three assists) combined for six points in Washington’s victory, with linemate Brooks Laich also notching an assist, while the third line was the only Caps’ trio to finish the game on the minus side of the ledger. Fehr was the only third-liner to notch a point, assisting on Fleischmann’s second-period power-play marker.

Meanwhile, 2009 first-round draft pick Marcus Johansson, who has been praised consistently by Boudreau since the start of rookie camp, handed out a pair of assists in his first appearance at the NHL level. His no-look drop pass set up Hendricks’ first goal, and impressed his veteran linemate. “It was a great play by a very young man,” Hendricks said. “He played well. He made a lot of great plays out there and really plays with his head and with his head up.”

Said Johansson: “I heard him from behind and no one else was there, so I just dropped it for him instead of making the harder pass, and he made a great shot.”

Assuming that Fleischmann has at least somewhat solidified his spot as the No. 2 pivot, that leaves Perreault and Johansson battling for the third center slot. Each player figures to appear in four or five preseason games, so the Columbus game will ultimately be a small part of the equation, and Boudreaux really likes both players.

“For a guy like Marcus preseason games will mean a lot,” he said. “We’ll learn a lot more about him at the NHL level when he plays against NHL players with NHL players on his wings. He makes a lot of things happen out there and he’s such a beautiful skater. He’s one of those players you’ll have to watch and watch. His positioning is very good. He’s not a dynamic, I got three goals today kind of guy. He just doesn’t make a lot of mistakes out there.”

Still, the efforts of smallish Perreault, who has gained about 12 pounds of muscle since last season, have not gone unnoticed. “He’s a good little player, and he’s pushing hard to have a place on this team. What does being ready mean? He has bulked up, he’s stronger and he’s a good player. We think that if he didn’t make it he’d be very close to making it.”

So where does that leave the roster? The first line appears set with Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom and Mike Knuble. After the first preseason outing you can at least pencil in Semin, Fleischmann and Laich as the second line. Chimera, Perreault and Fehr have impressed until tonight, with Johansson pushing Perreault at the pivot.

Initially it looked like the fourth line would be a rotation of Boyd Gordon, David Steckel, Matt Bradley and enforcer D.J. King, but now with Hendrickson stepping up and Gordon and Steckel spending time in and out of Boudreau’s doghouse last season, it appears as though Hendrickson has an inside shot at a roster spot.

It makes sense that Gordon, who is the most versatile of the group, would have the edge to center the line consistently based on his showing in the playoffs vs. Montreal last year and Steckel’s disappointing season. King will make the roster to fill the tough-guy role, and Bradley has been one of the team’s heart-and-soul guys for the past several years.

Does that mean Steckel, a longtime Boudreau favorite who helped the coach win a Calder Cup at Hershey, will end up on the outside looking in? You can’t tell for sure after one preseason game, but it should make for an interesting couple of weeks in D.C.

Other Camp Notes
The Caps have been busy the past couple of days, signing defensemen Tom Poti to a two-year extension through 2011-12 and signing 22-year-old goaltender Michal Neuvirth to a two-year deal. They also signed WHL junior goalie Brandon Anderson to a three-year entry-level contract.

The signing of Poti means the Caps have five d-men – Poti, Mike Green, John Carlson, Tyler Sloan and Jeff Schultz -- signed through 2011-12.

Neuvirth, who will probably be considered the No. 2 goalie behind Semyon Varlamov, is the first tender to be the primary netminder for two consecutive Calder Cup champions since Pete Peeters in the late 1970s.

Neuvirth was 9-4 with a 2.75 GAA and a .914 save percentage in 17 games for the Caps last year and is 11-5, 2.80, .910 for his career. He went 7-1 at the Verizon center last season with a 1.75 GAA. Neuvirth was 14-4 for Hershey in the playoffs last spring after earning the MVP the year before with a 16-6 mark and a 1.92 GAA.

“When you look at the NHL there are a lot of goalies without a job,” Neuvirth said. “My goal is to play in the NHL. I could have waited to sign, but I decided not to. This is a great organization with a big chance to win the Stanley Cup, so why not sign with them now?”

By the way, Varlamov was very sharp in his first outing against Columbus, stopping all 20 shots he faced, including a spectacular series of saves early in the second period. “It was a great first statement,” Boudreau said of Varlamov’s play. “He kept us in. You could tell it was a preseason game. We had a tremendous amount of turnovers in the first and second period and gave them opportunities to score. We were a little ragged in our zone at times, but the goaltending was there to back it up when we weren’t very good …”

On Tuesday Ovechkin’s Team A won its second straight Duchesne Cup as the top squad in training camp despite falling to Team B, which had been shut out by Team C, 5-0, in its first game by a score of 4-3 on a late goal by Semin. Team A won the cup on goal differential after refusing to pull its goalie despite trailing by a goal.

Team B rebounded after a little “pep talk” from Boudreau following its shutout loss in the first game of camp. “Obviously it helped,” said Boudreau of his speech, “since they played a much better game against a team with some pretty good players who weren’t just cruising around out there.” …

The Caps’ roster stands at 47 after 12 players were assigned to Hershey and another five were returned to their junior teams …

Washington’s line combinations at Columbus looked like this:

Hendricks-Johansson-A. Gordon

Cody Eakin, a 2009 third-round draft pick, scored in his debut at the NHL level, netting the Caps’ fifth goal. Eakin also scored the game-winner in the rookie game vs. the Flyers rookies last week.

The defensive pairings:


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A New Sheriff in Town?

By Scott Lowe
It looks as though Bruce Boudreau may have learned a valuable lesson from last year’s disappointing playoff experience.

During the Washington Capitals’ 2009-2010 run to the franchise’s first Presidents’ Trophy, Bourdreau rarely took his foot off the gas pedal. The team literally came to play every single night, using their free-wheeling offensive style to amass a club-record 14-game win streak and run away with the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

There’s something to be said for a team that plays hard and entertains fans on a daily basis in this day and age of millionaire pro athletes who admit taking games off or not giving their all every time out. And, no doubt, fans in Washington and cities around the league come out in droves to see the Caps play. The mistake that Boudreau made was to begin preaching to the media the need for his team to play a more defensive style the final two or three weeks of the season with the playoffs approaching instead of making the team a little more aware of that throughout the year.

While the Caps kept playing hard until the end and did pull out a few one-goal defensive battles down the stretch, they appeared to lose their edge a little bit. Some of the swagger that they had developed as an almost-invincible team during the majority of the season disappeared during the Canadiens’ seven-game upset of Washington.

Mike Green, who suffocated in Glen Hanlon’s conservative system but blossomed into an annual Norris Trophy candidate under Boudreau, looked and played like he was confused. Jeff Schultz, who flourished into the league’s top plus-minus performer playing alongside the offensive-minded Green, didn’t know what to do when Green changed his game. Tomas Fleischmann and Alex Semin, offensive mainstays all season long, just didn’t seem to fit into the scheme during the postseason.

Clearly there were lessons to be learned from last year’s disappointing ending. What we all must keep in mind is that this is still a very young team – actually even younger than last year’s with the departure of several veteran players and the promotion of players such as Karl Alzner, John Carlson and possibly Matthieu Perrault and Marcus Johansson into key roles.

As long as the same mistakes aren’t repeated on a yearly basis, with the kind of talent base that’s in Washington and the franchise’s organizational depth, the Caps should be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender for years to come. Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say, and the “wise guys” in Vegas, who usually aren’t far off the mark, have installed Washington – along with Pittsburgh – as a Cup favorite as training camp gets underway.

Caps players seemed to have learned their lesson, many of them speaking of being angry about last year’s failure and coming to camp with a chip on their shoulders. And the preliminary indication from some of Boudreau’s early training-camp comments is that the man who has been called a player’s coach may be shortening the leash a bit and asking the players to focus on the big picture instead of daily appearances on the ESPN top 10 plays list.

Some of Boudreau’s comments after yesterday’s scrimmage, won 6-3 by the Group A or “Red Army” team against the Group C team that had throttled Washington’s other camp squad, 5-0, the day before were interesting and refreshing.

“That’s just us,” he quipped when asked about the offensive output in the game. Then, when questioned about how he expected the humbled Group B team to match up with the Group C offensive juggernaut he said, “I expect that they’ll play better tomorrow. I had a little talk with them after the 5-0 game.”

Wow, a tongue-lashing on the first day of camp for a lackluster performance. Love it. What did you tell them, coach? “We’ll just keep that between us,” he said, grinning.

Later when asked what he thought of the strong play of the current “third line” of Jason Chimera, Matthieu Perreault and Eric Fehr, he added, “I’m not surprised that they are doing well, because I thought they were supposed to be the top line on their team. They have dominated a lot of the play and created a lot of scoring chances. Chimmer and Eric played together last year, and Matty’s motivated to make the team, so it makes sense.”

Then things got less jovial and Boudreau was asked about Fleischmann’s chances to hold onto the job as the second-line center. “He’s been put in a position to win that job. Sometimes teams call their lines the second, third and fourth lines, while other teams call them their secondary scoring, checking and energy lines. It just so happens that we had three lines that could score last year and an energy shut-down line.

“Whether Flash is in the lineup at that position or another position, he’ll make the other line more of a scoring threat than it is now. We’ll see. Certainly I don’t like the way {Fleischmann and Semin} in two days and one game have been passing back and forth like it’s shinny, but we’ll have a talk about that.”

Wow. Another “talk” with players not performing well early in training camp. Looks like there’s a new sheriff in town, one who is going to crack the whip and not let some of the players on the Caps’ roster fall prey to the bad habits they can get away with in November, but not April.

No one will contest that Washington only needs to tweak a few things to make a deep playoff run. Well, it looks like the tweaking already has begun. and that’s good news for Caps fans.

Other Camp Notes
The Ovechkin-led Group A team, featuring five of Washington’s six Russians in camp, scored three third-period goals to break a 3-all tie and earn a 6-3 victory yesterday against the Group C team, which had defeated Group B the day before, 5-0. Group A was playing its first game of camp.

Boudreau commented about how the tempo was much-improved from the previous-day’s contest. That, paired with the A team’s offensive firepower most likely wore down the Group C boys. Caps’ regulars Mike Knuble (two goals) and Ovechkin (one goal), along with newly signed enforcer D.J. King, were among the Group A goal-scorers. Jason Chimera was the lone Washington regular to score for Group C. Hershey hopeful Andrew Gordon also potted a goal …

Ovechkin’s squad can capture the “Duchesne Cup” today with a victory against the Group B team, but if the B side can win it will create a three-way tie and goal-differential will decide the camp champion …

Reigning AHL MVP Keith Aucoin has not been mentioned as a player who is in the running for one of the Caps’ three center slots, but the speedy playmaker should not be overlooked. He has played many roles in short stays in Washington, including a stint on the fourth line and minutes with the top guys and on the power play. Although not big, he’s shifty, sees the ice well and brings energy to every shift. At this stage in their careers he brings more to the table than a guy like Brendan Morrison, who spent time last season centering each of Caps’ top three lines. Don’t be surprised if he gets tossed into the mix very soon …

Finally, I’m still trying to figure out why natural-center Brooks Laich, who always has been solid defensively and good on faceoffs, never is mentioned as the possible second- or third-line pivot. I’d like to hear some others’ thoughts on this …

The Caps open the preseason tomorrow night at Columbus. The game can be heard on with Washington play-by-play man Steve Kolbe and my friend Mike Vogel on the call. I have coached Mike’s son in hockey for the past five or six years. He’s a great guy and a hard-worker who really makes the Caps’ website go. If you are looking to satisfy your early-season hockey fix, check them out. Faceoff is 7 p.m.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Centers of Attention

The math is simple for the Washington Capitals. They have five players competing for three center spots.

Breaking it down even further, you have two players competing for the second-line center position, with Tomas Fleischmann being given a long early look and the inside edge by Coach Bruce Boudreau, two players competing for the third-line pivot slot and two players competing to be the fourth-line centerman.

Two plus two plus two … that’s five right? Wait, maybe the math’s not so simple, especially for this state school journalism major.

One of the main concerns among the Caps’ fanbase and media contingent this offseason was, along with solidifying the defense, adding a second-line center. And Washington’s failure to resign Eric Belanger also leaves the third-line pivot in question. Finally, the fourth-line, which figures to feature of rotation of grinding veterans David Steckel, Boyd Gordon, Matt Bradley, D.J. King and possibly Jason Chimera on occasion, also is in need of a regular center.

As training camp opens it appears as though the second-line spot is Tomas Fleischmann’s to lose. If “Flash” plays they way he did as a pivot during the team’s 14-game win streak last year and looks like he will improve upon his career-best 51 points in 69 games, the job is his, and he will likely start the season between Alexander Semin and Brooks Laich. But if Fleischmann more resembles the player who went scoreless in last season’s playoffs, earning a seat in the pressbox for Game 7, 2009 first-round draftee Marcus Johansson seems poised to give him a run for his money.

Johansson was cited by Boudreau as the best player in Washington’s rookie camp on a daily basis and recorded two assists vs. the Flyers rookies. Much like Nicklas Backstrom a few seasons ago, the young Swede is poised beyond his years and possesses an impressive skill set that includes good hands, vision and speed. While many among the Caps’ media are clamoring for Johansson to spend the year in Hershey, how much risk would it be to keep him at the NHL level surrounded by so many young, talented veterans?

If Fleischmann holds onto the second-line job, expect Johansson to compete with gritty, creative forechecking machine Matthieu Perreault for the third-line spot. Perreault recorded 50 points in 56 games for Hershey last year, appeared in 21 contests for Washington, and helped the Bears capture the Calder cup with seven goals and 19 points in the playoffs. A smallish player with good speed, he has added almost 15 pounds to his frame in the offseason, which should keep him from getting pushed around.

So, when you reexamine the math, Johansson is really in the running at two positions. With Gordon and Steckel competing for fourth-line minutes at center. In reality there are five players fighting for three spots.

Another possibility, maybe the best-case scenario for the Caps, would be for Johansson and Perrault to be so impressive that Fleischmann, who says he prefers center and has come to camp determined to impress, can be returned to second- or third-line wing, with Chimera being dropped from his current third-line wing spot to the fourth line – at least on occasion.

Chimera has come to camp in tip-top condition and has looked good thus far, so he may be difficult to move. A rare combination of speed and size, he currently is playing with Perreault and talented winger Eric Fehr on the third line. Boudreau said that Chimera looks to be “in mid-season form,” and that trio dominated the team’s first scrimmage yesterday, with each netting a goal in the second period to lead Group C to a 5-0 victory over a team that featured a young defense and probable Caps backup netminder Michael Neuvirth (two goals allowed).

“Both Matty and Eric are great players,” said Chimera, who scored on a breakaway and feels like he can score 20-plus goals if placed in the right situation. “It’s nice to play with them, especially Matty. He’s a pretty gifted offensive guy.”

Tremendous organizational depth, along with a slew of former first-round draft picks in the system, has allowed the Capitals the luxury of trying to build from within and created a high level of competition on a regular basis. The players have to compete on an NHL level every day, which helps ease the transition when they are inserted into the Washington lineup. It also has allowed Washington to save salary cap space in case this plan of action doesn’t work out for General Manager George McPhee and the Caps have to make a move during the season.

All of this makes for an interesting training camp, with spirited workouts and friendly – yet intense – competition, all of which points to a team that should be able to fly out the gates when the puck drops for real in October. While it’s certainly entertaining for the fans, it also bodes well for the team’s future both in the short and long term.

Other Camp Notes
It looks like former No. 1 picks Karl Alzner and John Carlson, who were paired together on the blueline for much of last season in Hershey and with the Caps for Game 7 vs. Montreal, will open preseason tomorrow in Columbus paired together. “You could tell in the {AHL} playoffs and even when they were up here that they are two really good defensemen who have confidence in each other,” Boudreau said …

Washington has six Calgary natives, including four defensemen, on its camp roster … Five of Washington’s six Russians attending camp are on the same team for the intra-squad scrimmages. That team, which features Alex Ovechkin, Semyon Varlamov, Nikita Kashirsky, Stanislav Galiev and Dmitri Kugryshev, is in action today, vying for an opportunity to face the Group C team that was victorious yesterday for the “Duchesne Cup.”

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Rookies Johansson, Eakin, Finley Impress

By Scott Lowe
With two days of rookie camp in the book, it’s not hard to tell who is catching the eye of Washington Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau. Boudreau has mentioned first-round draft picks Marcus Johansson, Cody Eakin and Joe Finley following each day’s workout.

Each player has his own interesting story and timeline. Johnasson, a Swede who has played both center and wing, has average size, but is mature with good speed and skill. He is one of the youngsters mentioned by some as a possibility to fill the open No. 2 center spot for the Caps this year. While on the surface it would seem to be a longshot for a soon-to-be 20-year-old (Oct. 6 birthday) to become the second-line center for the defending Presidents’ Trophy winners, upon further review, it might make sense to give him a shot.

Nicklas Backstrom also came to Washington from Sweden and was mentored initially by countryman Michael Nylander. Now, Backstrom could handle that role for his young compatriot. Johansson likely would be surrounded by talented, veteran players such as Alex Semin and Brooks Laich (or Tomas Fleischmann) on the second line, and with all the offensive firepower the Caps have, he wouldn’t feel a tremendous amount of pressure to score goals. The hope would be to have him spend a good portion of the season getting acclimated to the NHL game and developing and understanding of what it takes to succeed in the league as well as his linemate’s tendendices.

Washington can afford to be patient without jeopardizing its standing as an Eastern Conference favorite, and Johannson has played at a very high level internationally as a member of Swedish professional championship teams and the captain of Sweden’s World Junior Championship team in 2010.

“He’s looked pretty good so far,” Boudreau said. “Of course there’s no hitting yet, but he does look really smooth and skilled. I think he’s going to be a good player.”

Eakin is a 2009 third-round draft pick who finished last year with Hershey after his season with Swift Current of the WHL concluded. Still 19, he recently was named captain of the Broncos for the 2010-11 campaign, but certainly would be willing to give that up if he were to land an NHL job with one of the league’s elite teams. A center in an organization looking for depth at that position, Eakin was dominant in the WHL a year ago with 47 goals and 44 assists. Although not big at 5-11 and about 185 lbs., he has tremendous speed and is solid at both ends of the ice. Because he has a year of junior hockey left, either Eakin makes the Caps’ roster full time or must be returned to Swift Current. While it appears to be a longshot for him to stick at the NHL level, Eakin will get a long look from Boudreau: “He’s been impressive so far, and I’d really like to get a look at him in one or two NHL exhibition games before I decide exactly where he belongs.”

Finley is a 2005 first-round draft pick who suffered a rare arm aneurysm last year that limited him to 17 games with South Carolina of the ECHL. A big, strong defenseman at 6-8, 255 lbs., Finley appears headed for a full season at Hershey this year. There is no rush for the Caps, who already will have four former first-round draft picks in their lineup, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Finley get a couple of NHL games under his belt to benefit his and the team’s future if there are some injuries. In this day and age of salary cap constraints, it seems unlikely that Washington will be able to keep their NHL-level first-rounders together forever, so finding that next generation of blueliners is a key to the team’s long-term success.

“Last year we had Joe in camp and we tried him at forward,” Boudreau said. “I just don’t think his heart was into that, and it showed. He seems more comfortable and determined this year. Joe’s a big, strong guy and those are the types of guys you really want to work with.”

Another young player who has been impressive but will be returning to juniors this year is Russian QMJHL prospect Stanislav Galiev. Galiev, who recorded 60 points in 69 games and 19 points in 21 playoff contests for St. John last season, is a winger who general manager George McPhee has asked Boudreau to move to center during rookie camp. That move was made easier when 2008 first-round pick Anton Gustafsson, drafted as a center, asked to be shifted to wing during the summer. The Caps are desperately trying to build depth at the pivot, so this move could expedite Galiev’s path to the NHL, especially if he keeps impressing.

Eakin and Mitchell Named Captains of Junior Teams
Both Eakin and another Washington prospect, Garrett Mitchell, have been named captains of their respective WHL junior teams – Swift Current and Regina, respectively. Mitchell, a 2009 sixth-round pick, recorded 31 points in 57 games for Regina before appearing in one game for AHL Hershey last season.

“It’s great to have those types of leaders in the organization,” Boudreau said. “You can see why they are captains. They are the first ones to do the drills here, they always get the drills right the first time and the always work hard. When they go back to their junior teams there are going to be 16-year-old kids who want to be just like them. Then they come in here and do the same things. You can’t have enough leaders. For our future that is a really good thing.”

Upcoming Schedule
Rookie camp continues tomorrow (Wednesday, Sept. 15) with an 11:45 a.m. scrimmage at the Kettler Iceplex, followed by Thursday’s annual rookie game against the Flyers. That game, which starts at 3 p.m. at Kettler, has become very popular among Caps’ fans in recent years, annually drawing upwards of 1,500 fans. For those who can’t miss work or school, the usually intense battle will be streamed live on Veteran players have been skating every day this week at 8 a.m. That skate will be moved to 10 a.m. on Thursday. Full training camp opens on Saturday, Sept. 18.

Holtby Tuning Up
Braden Holtby, who turned in a fine year as the No. 2 netminder in Hershey last season, has been working out with the rookies to get more reps. He is hoping to be sharp when camp opens and realizes that with four goalies at the NHL camp, including Semyon Varlamov, Michael Neuvirth, Danny Sabourin and himself), he might not get as much work as he would like.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Fleischmann to Stay Put and Other Preseason Notes

Fleischman’s Status and Other Caps Notes
You can put an end to the Tomas Fleischmann trade rumors, at least according to Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau.

The offensively gifted young winger, who may find himself shifted to center and battling for a spot as the second-line pivot, has been rumored to be on the trading block since a sub-par playoff performance against Montreal that ended up with an unceremonious Game 7 benching. Yesterday, in a short story published on, Boudreau put an end to the trade speculation, stating that he expects Fleischmann to have a “breakout year.” Boudreau thinks Fleischmann will improve upon last year’s 23 goals, especially considering that Fleischmann missed all of training camp and the first 11 games last season because of a blood clot.

Fleischmann, who reportedly has looked good in preseason workouts with teammates at the Caps’ Kettler Iceplex practice facility, has a long history with Boudreau. While both were at Hershey Fleischmann was the offensive leader on a team that captured one Calder Cup and advanced to the finals the following year. When Boudreau was hired by Washington he began easing Fleischmann into the lineup, at one point commenting that the young Czech was “my Ovechkin” at Hershey.

In his short NHL career Fleischmann, as his nickname “Flash” suggests, has shown flashes of brilliance, appearing in 260 NHL games and recording 56 goals, 72 assists, 128 points and a minus-7 overall rating. Prior to falling out of favor in the postseason last spring Fleischmann had turned in his best season as a Cap, notching 28 assists to go along with his 23 goals and posting a career-best plus-9.

Fleishman is a fast, yet smooth and possesses tremendous skill and a powerful wrist shot. If he can develop a little bit better touch around the goal and add some physicality to his game there is no reason he can’t be a consistent 30-goal scorer at the NHL level. His seeming lack of willingness to roll up his sleeves and battle in the corners and in front of the net, as well as some defensive zone coverage issues, earned the wrath of Washington’s fan base during last year’s playoffs and apparently led to Boudreau’s Game 7 decision to dress veteran tough guy Scott Walker instead of Fleischmann.

Perhaps that benching was what Fleischmann needed as motivation to help him ascend to the upper echelon of NHL forwards this year. If not, expect the trade rumors to heat up again around deadline time as his one-year, $2.6 million contract nears its end.

Do the Wise Guys Know Something?
After opening 12-1 odds to win the Stanley Cup, the Caps have moved into the favorite spot on the Vegas boards along with their arch-rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Both are currently listed as 6-1, followed by Chicago at 7-1 and Detroit at 10-1. Vancouver, San Jose, Philadelphia and New Jersey are next in line according to the Vegas pundits. Rounding out the list at the bottom is Edmonton at 100-1.

To think that Edmonton has fallen that far since its dominance throughout the mid-to-late 1980s and into the 90s is shocking on the surface. But as I look into my own backyard I see a Baltimore Orioles franchise that was baseball’s winningest over a 35-year period spanning the 60s, 70s and 80s and had a resurgence in the late 90s before becoming the American League’s doormat over the past five years. And the once-proud Washington Redskins’ struggles under the “leadership” of Daniel Snyder have left the three-time Super Bowl champs as a three-time playoff qualifier and perennial .500 or below franchise since their last title in 1992.

Sports success seems to go in cycles, which is good news for the Capitals right now as they have built unmatched organizational depth in professional hockey. That depth has developed as a result of an orchestrated rebuilding period during the middle part of the decade that has produced contributing first-round draft picks such as Alexander Ovechkin, Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, Alexander Semin, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Boyd Gordon, Eric Fehr, Nicklas Backstrom, Semyon Varlamov. Other draftees and prospects have contributed to Hershey’s back-to-back Calder Cup victories and have allowed Washington to avoid the free agent spending frenzy this summer in hopes of constructing a championship-caliber club from within.

Training Camp Update
The Caps’ rookie camp begins Sunday at the Kettler Iceplex in Northern Virginia and culminates on Sept. 16 with the annual rookie game there against the Flyers. That contest will be streamed with audio and video coverage on Selected rookies will be chosen from that camp to participate in full training camp, which begins Sept. 18 at Kettler. All rookie and training camp workouts are open to the public.

Washington’s preseason schedule shapes up this way:

Wednesday, Sept. 22 at Columbus
Saturday, Sept. 25 at Nashville
Tuesday, Sept. 28 home vs. Boston
Wednesday, Sept. 29 at Boston
Friday, Oct. 1 home vs. Columbus
Sunday, Oct. 3 home vs. Nashville

For the first time in recent memory the Caps will not face a single Southeast Division foe leading up to their regular-season opener Oct. 8 at Atlanta. Washington faces New Jersey in its home opener Oct. 9 at Verizon Center. This year the Caps will appear on Versus 11 times (thank God that Direc TV solved that issue!), and NBC will televise as many as four of Washington’s contests.