Washington closes out its 2009 preseason schedule with a Sunday matinee match against the New York Rangers. The Caps and Rangers hooked up on Thursday night in New York with the Blueshirts coming away victorious on a late goal from Chris Higgins. Higgins bounced the puck off Caps center David Steckel and past Washington netminder Jose Theodore with 70 seconds remaining in regulation to give the Rangers a 3-2 win.
Each of the previous four goals of that contest were scored in the second period when the two teams traded tallies. Alexander Semin scored for Washington and Keith Aucoin continued his strong bid for an opening night roster berth with the other Capitals goal.
Semyon Varlamov is expected to get the start in goal for Washington on Saturday afternoon against New York. He is 2-0 with a 2.48 goals against average thus far during the preseason.
Left wing Chris Bourque returned to the ice for Saturday’s Caps practice at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex and he is expected to play on Sunday in his ongoing bid for an opening night roster berth. The Capitals still have many decisions that need to be made in that regard; they’ve got 31 rostered players (18 forwards, 10 defensemen and three goaltenders) as they prepare for their final preseason tune-up.
Two of Washington’s forwards (Tomas Fleischmann and Eric Fehr) are ailing and could open the season on injured reserve, which may enable a couple of bubble players to sneak on the roster for a few early season games. The jostling for jobs is most interesting up front where Bourque, Alexandre Giroux, Quintin Laing and natural center Keith Aucoin are all battling for berths. All have extensive AHL experience and nothing left to prove at that level.
Blueliners Karl Alzner, Sean Collins and Tyler Sloan are fighting to unseat one or more of seven incumbent Capitals defensemen. Caps coach Bruce Boudreau figures to get a final look at a few of the bubble guys on Sunday against New York, but he will also use the game as an opportunity to get his regulars some ice in the days leading up to Thursday’s season-opening skirmish against the Bruins in Boston.
The Capitals are 3-2 thus far in the preseason. They have yet to surrender more than three goals in a game and have limited their opponents to fewer than 30 shots on goal in each of those five contests.
The Rangers have turned over half the roster the Caps faced just five months ago in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. New York dressed 20 players for Game 7 of that series against Washington last April 28 and it had two more on the sidelines as healthy scratches. Only 11 of those 22 players remain with the Rangers organization today.
Blueshirts center Brandon Dubinsky, a contract holdout for most of training camp, finally made his preseason debut on Thursday in the win over Washington. Dubinsky turned in a solid effort, so much so that Rangers coach John Tortorella bumped him up to the team’s top line between off-season acquisitions Tim Higgins and Marian Gaborik.
New York has all but cut down to its opening night roster. The Blueshirts have 23 players on their roster, including forward Sean Avery who is currently sidelined with a sprained knee. New York may still make a roster slice or two between Sunday’s exhibition finale and Wednesday’s deadline for the finalization of opening night rosters.