Washington Capitals: (Almost) Preseason Perfection
The Capitals finished off their preseason on Sunday with a disappointing 3-0 loss to the Nashville Predators to finish with five wins and just one loss. Going into camps and games, there were two roster spots available. One was at second/third line center, depending on what the coaching staff and organisation management choose to do with Tomas Fleischmann, and one as a healthy scratch, playing on the fourth line when needed. The first position, the contest to be in the line up was between Mathieu Perreault and Marcus Johansson.
A big fans favourite, Perreault had the slight edge going into camp, as he has been with the organisation longer, has played with many of the current Caps players, and has more experience of the North American game (Johansson having only ever played in Sweden). However, after an impressive showing in development camp, the 24th overall pick in the 2009 draft Johansson showed he could adapt very quickly to the style needed and brought from Sweden some advantages in his game, especially his natural defensive ability. And in games it was Johansson who excelled over Perreault.
Whilst Perreault did impress, especially on a line with Ovechkin and Knuble in the 3-0 loss to the Preds, Johansson has, as Bruce Boudreau put it, “got more defensive upside” to him. Furthermore, whilst it means he has less experience, Johansson younger age means he has more potential for growth. Perreault is still only 22, so will probably find his way into the Caps lineup in the not-too-distant future; but Johansson at 20 (it’s his birthday today!) may, in the coaching staff’s view, be able to hit higher heights over the course of this season than Perreault, especially judging by the amount his game has grown in the month or so he’s been in Washington. And since this Caps team is more than capable of easily making the playoffs even if there are a few weak links in the lineup, they are able to take a risk with Johansson’s ability at the moment, if it results in him reaching a higher standard of play by the time the postseason comes around. With five assists for five points in as many games in preseason, beating Perreault’s two in as many games, Marcus Johansson, or MJ90 as he is now being nicknamed by some, earned one of the two remaining roster spots and a place in the lineup on opening night this Friday.
The race for the extra roster spot, as healthy scratch/occasional fourth liner, started out with a lot of forwards vying to filling the role. The most likely ones to be competing for the position, so it seemed heading into the season preparations, were Jay Beagle, Keith Aucoin, and Perreault/Johansson (whichever failed to win a place in the lineup). However, Cody Eakin entered the race for a roster spot after a very impressive showing, along with Johansson, in development camp. But with Johansson and Perreault much more likely to take the spot in the lineup, and a place as captain of the Swift Current Broncos, Eakin was returned to the WHL to ensure he gets plenty of ice time; though the decision was a tough one for the coaches to make as he posted two goals in three preseason games for the Caps and was able to hold his own with the big boys. Aucoin and Bouchard faded surprisingly early from the race, not doing too much good in training camp, so resigned to helping out youngsters in Hershey. This left Beagle, challenging for the place with new addition to the race Andrew Gordon, who with incredible numbers in Hershey the past three seasons earned some recognition from the Caps, and new front-runner Matt Hendricks.
With nobody really succeeding in separating themselves from the rest in this race, Hendricks, in camp on a tryout, showed a lot of grit and leadership to earn a one-year $575,000 two-way contract. He would be a good addition to the Bears’ roster as it is and could be encouraged to step his game up to prove his NHL-worth. And he did just that, notching a hat-trick in the preseason opener against Columbus. Although he didn’t record another point in the further two games he played in, he showed the grit and team leadership needed to fill the role he was challenging for, not least in fighting Boston’s Gregory Campbell just two seconds into the second game against the Bruins, as retribution for an overly-aggressive hit by Campbell on Alex Ovechkin in the previous game. And while Gordon and Beagle showed flashes of quality in training camp, Hendricks was able to distance himself from the two in fitting the role of healthy scratch with his grit, leadership and versatility. So Hendricks, who is familiar with Coach Boudreau, having gone to the Calder Cup finals with him in the 2006-07 AHL season with the Hershey Bears, joined Johansson in filling the final roster spot for the upcoming season.
So there we have it; Marcus Johansson and Matt Hendricks complete the 2010-11 Washington Capitals roster. And it isn’t far different from last season’s roster. Another President’s Trophy should be delivered to Washington from this team; and quite possibly much more.