The Caps fell to Carolina in their preseason opener 2-1 in overtime. More important than the score, however, was the performance of the players who are all vying to impress the coaches. Here are three players who impressed and three players who had a rough start.
3 players who impressed:
Vitek Vanecek: In his first taste of NHL experience, Vanecek was impressive in net. He played about half the game allowing only one goal on 13 shots.
Vanecek has been largely overshadowed after the Caps drafted goalie Ilya Samsonov in the first round of the 2015 draft, but he showed tonight why he continues to climb the ranks in the organization.
Vanecek fought off several screens and was quick to flash the pads for key kick saves. The only goal he allowed was a rolling puck high on the glove side which would have been a tough save for any netminder.
“I was extremely happy with our goaltending,” associate coach Todd Reirden said. “I thought Vitek did a great job with his first game.”
Nathan Walker: At just 5-foot-8, 179 pounds, Walker is not the most physically imposing player on the ice, but that didn’t stop him from playing an extremely physical game against Carolina.
“[Walker] added a lot of life, definitely frustrated some of the opposition,” Reirden said. “He's a guy that brings a ton of speed and energy and I thought he had a real strong game for us.”
Walker finished with a game-high six hits.
If his size was a concern for the Caps coming into this season, he showed that he won’t be intimidated by the bigger players of the NHL.
“I've played like that my whole life,” Walker said. “I'm not going to stop now just because the guys are a little bigger here.”
Madison Bowey: With the Caps trailing 1-0 in the third period, Bowey was able to pull the game even and force overtime with a one-timer on the power play to beat Carolina goalie Alex Nedeljkovic.
“I just let the play develop with Lars Eller,” Bowey said. “Whenever he's on the ice he makes a lot of room for other guys and he made a great pass to Paul Carey and he found me which just made it pretty easy for me to kind of shoot and put it in.”
Bowey has shown good offensive instincts in Hershey and pinched up at the perfect time to get the pass from Carey and fire the one-timer.
Prior to that point, the game felt uneventful for Bowey, which is usually a good thing for a defenseman.
“Every time you can contribute offensively it goes a long way,” Bowey said, “But I think really my role, if I want to make this team, is just making sure I can play simple and solid every game. I was really happy with my defensive play tonight.”
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3 players who need to show improvement:
Riley Barber: The first period was not kind to Barber as he took not one, but two minor penalties before the game was even nine minutes old. Barber was called for hooking just 3:29 into the game as he lost a pass in the offensive zone and brought down Jordan Staal in the neutral zone on the back check.
Just five minutes later, Barber was called for tripping Jaccob Slavin behind Carolina’s net for an offensive zone penalty. Barber came in on the forecheck to pressure Slavin and was too aggressive with the sweep check as the Carolina defenseman tripped over his stick.
“It's something I addressed after the game,” Reirden said, “Because in the beginning of the year, every NHL season, the referees always call way more penalties on stick infractions.”
Reirden also noted, however, that he was pleased with how Barber rebounded from the rough start.
“I liked the way his game came around. A lot of times you'll find with young players if they have some difficulties in the beginning of the game, then there game continues to head south and his game turned around.”
Brooks Orpik: Orpik will enter the season trying to erase the memory of last season’s rough playoff performance and Monday was not a good start. Carolina was able to turn a bad turnover from the veteran defenseman into a goal late in the first period that proved to be the only goal the Caps would concede in regulation.
Orpik was skating with the puck in the defensive zone and missed on a pass to Jay Beagle who was standing near the boards. The puck went behind Beagle and bounced off the boards to Slavin who passed it up to Bryan Bickell to start the rush. Patrick Brown would finish off the play with a top-shelf goal.
One lone Carolina player was weakly forechecking Orpik, but he should have been able to handle that pressure. A veteran defenseman of his caliber should be able to pass to a stationary player in the face of a single forechecker. That’s not a play that should result in a turnover.
Jakub Vrana: There's no denying Vrana's talent, that was evident on Monday even if he came up empty on the box score. The problem, however, is that Vrana brought an AHL mindset to an NHL game. He relied far too much on his speed, attempting to simply skate around defensemen who were able to easily stay with him and force him out of the play.
In the AHL, Vrana is able to dominate with his speed and skill. Monday showed that's not enough to be successful in the NHL where the players are just as fast and just as skilled.
Vrana managed only one shot and had another blocked. It was not a terrible performance, but a clear indication that he needs more development before he is NHL ready. He needs to learn how to play against more skilled defensemen if he hopes to make an impact with the Caps.
MORE CAPITALS: Caps drop preseason opener in overtime, 2-1