Monday, September 07, 2009

The Quest For The Cup Starts Here

71 players, two practice rinks, rookie and regular training camps, and six preseason games. It's the dawn of a new season. One that finds the Washington Capitals' expectations far exceed just getting to the next round.

Their hope is not only to battle for first in both their division and in their conference, but a team that can and will make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. This is a team that felt if they had different fortunes in a certain game seven, they would be the ones lifting a special banner this October. This is the Cup or bust season for the Capitals.

Not that any player would say such a thing, but read between the lines and you will notice this team finds its exit from the post season last spring a bit unsettling. They plan to fix that bad heartburn they had just 4 months ago.

And it all starts here, at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. 71 players will take to these two rinks atop the Ballston Commons parking garage to take on another grueling NHL season. Rookies will take the stage first, then veterans wander in a week later. And just ten days from now, the Caps will be playing in their first preseason game in Buffalo N.Y.

Here are a few interesting things you will see and want to keep an eye on this week at KCI.

Semyon Varlamov changed the spelling of his first name and has some new pads. He will also be on the ice for the rookie camp. Along with Braden Holtby and Micheal Neuvirth, the goaltenders will be battling for spots in Hershey and for the Capitals. Don't think that Varly the number one position in the bag. Jose Theodore is in the final year of his contract and I would expect that he will be playing top notch goaltending throughout camp and the preseason to retain his formally number one spot.

At this point the battle really comes down all three goaltenders, Theodore, Neuvirth and Varlamov for spots one and two on the Caps roster. And the competition looks fierce.

There will be some new goaltending faces at camp, like Jason Bacashihua. He was originally drafted by Dallas in '01, and played a game or two for the St. Louis Blues. He was signed as a UFA by Hershey/Capitals in July. Also Todd Ford, a tall goaltender at 6'4", who was originally a Toronto draft pick in '02. Ford has struggled being sent back and forth from the one minor team to the next, but found a nitch in the ECHL with Victoria where he had a .915 save percentage and 2.64 GAA.

Joe Finley is listed on the forwards side of the roster instead of defense. It is not that big of a surprise as the coaches made the switch at developing camp in July. It a lot of ways I can see what they are trying to get out of Finley, a big gritty forward that has size and isn't afraid to hit wearing down opposing defenders and playing a good two way game. Think of it as a David Steckel clone perhaps. Finley's move to the forward position has been one he has been told to work on all summer. Per Tarik on his blog:
"We told [Finley] we wanted to try him at forward and we wanted him to go back to North Dakota to practice as a forward," [Bruce] Boudreau said. "We want to see how much that has improved because I asked him on the last day [of development camp]. Now he's had a couple of months."
We will see how that little experiment goes.

Micheal Dubuc returns. He easily impressed the coaches in development camp and could fight for a spot on the squad. It will be easier to gain a grasp of what he is capable of when he is mixed in with the veterans, but he should be the one to watch for the rookie game and in intrasquad scrimmages. He just has a nose for finding the back of the net.

Some noticeable misses in the rookie camp roster are defenseman Patrick Wey, forward Greg Burke, center Phil DeSimone, goalie Dan Dunn, forward Andrew Glass, and defenseman Dmitri Orlov (all were at the summer development camp, but according to the list generated by the Caps media relations none of these names appear on the rookie or training camp rosters).

Battles for defense should be a good one. Black horse and underdog Karl Alzner could crack the opening night roster. So could Tyler Sloan, a popular choice of the coaches when the blue line was hurt last season, and also rookie John Carlson, who has done nothing but improve every time we see him. It will be a tough nut to crack because the Capitals did not lose a single starting defensemen in the off season. All will return and all will be looking to keep their spots with the big club.

The Capitals training camp practices are open to the public and start today at 10:30 am. Rookie Camp is first and ends on Friday with the rookie game against Philadelphia in Vorhees N.J. Then the Veterans report on Saturday, September 12th and training camp begins on Sunday with the first squad hitting the ice at 10 am, the second at 11:45 am and the third group at 2:15 pm. Times are subject to change. Schedule of all the caps training camp practices and schedules can be found on the Caps' website.

Hockey is back!

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