With the regular season less than a week away, the Washington Capitals find their opening night roster coming more and more into focus. Friday’s 5-3 win over Columbus provided the coaching staff and management another dress rehearsal for a club that needs to some important decisions over the next few days.
Perhaps the most important decision the team is faced with regards two young centers – Mathieu Perrault and Marcus Johansson. Perrault played well in limited action with the club last season, and was a key contributor in the Hershey Bears’ Calder Cup Championship.
Johansson, the 24th overall pick in the 2009 draft, has shown good two-way ability and elite speed so far in camp. While raw, the team likes his defensive game and his potential.
Both players have performed well so far in the preseason, and it could very well end up that both make the roster. Tomas Fleischmann is the incumbent second-line center, but has been limited in the preseason so far due to injury. Recent signee Matt Hendricks could also play into the team’ decision, though his role would likely be on the third or fourth line.
Friday night, the two players continued to trade blows in the fight for a roster spot: Johansson had an assist on Eric Fehr’s first-period goal and created numerous other chances; Perrault was arguably the best player on the ice and also had an assist.
The final preseason game will be the last on-ice test for the young centers, but it may end up being a matter of options, rather than talent. Perrault can still be sent down to AHL Hershey, while Johansson can choose to return to Sweden. The team may prefer to give Johansson an extended look in the season’s first month.
Other than the two young centers, the Capitals still have to make choices regarding several other young players. Jay Beagle and Andrew Gordon both are vying for a fourth-line spot, but are climbing an uphill battle with veterans Boyd Gordon, David Steckel, Matt Bradley, and D.J. King all but guaranteed roster spots – not to mention Hendricks’ possible spot as well.
Gordon’s waiver eligibility may force the team to also give him an extended look, because it is possible that another team will want to take a chance on the young winger. Gordon had two penalties Friday night, but picked it up in the third period and, along with Beagle, created a number of scoring chances.
The final preseason game on Sunday is the Caps’ last chance to get a look at their young forwards before opening night next Thursday. If Friday night is any indication, the players will leave everything on the ice as they try to make the roster.
Check out the video for interviews with Johansson, Fehr, and Alex Ovechkin.