After taking two road tilts to start off their six-game slate of exhibition games, the Caps host the Boston Bruins on Tuesday at Verizon Center in the first of their three home contests during the pre-season.
The game starts a home-and-home set of back-to-backs with the Bruins; the two teams will travel to Beantown for a Wednesday night rematch.
Washington made a handful of roster trims on Monday, paring its training camp roster down to 33 players. Of those 33 players, 21 are forwards (nine are defensemen and three are goaltenders). Of those 21 forwards, 18 have some previous NHL experience.
The Caps announced on Monday that they had signed center Matt Hendricks – formerly a member of the Boston organization – to a one-year, two-way contract. Washington’s opening night roster is all but set in terms of defensemen and goaltenders, but there is a spirited competition developing for what would be no more than 14 forward slots.
The Caps know that Nicklas Backstrom will be centering the team’s top line this season, but beyond that, the middle slots of the other three lines are open. Rookie Marcus Johansson has played well in his two preseason games, and he will get his first showing in front of the home folks in Tuesday’s game.
Johansson -- the team's first-round (24th overall) choice in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft -- is slated to center a line between Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin against Boston.
“I didn’t want to anoint anybody with any jobs before he started, but he has done well,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau of Johansson. “As [have] Cody Eakin, Mathieu Perreault and Keith Aucoin. There are a lot of jobs in that area. And [Tomas Fleischmann] did really well in his first game. You know [Nicklas Backstrom] is going to be there. You’ve got [David Steckel, Boyd], Gordon and Brooks [Laich] if we wanted to put Brooks at center. We’ve got a lot of capable guys. Even Matt Hendricks is a natural center. There are a lot of guys who are capable of playing that position.
“It’s going to be really tough for us to make a final determination because they’re all good.”
Johansson turns 20 on Oct. 6, two days prior to the start of the season. He doesn’t look like a kid who is in the waning days of his teen years on the ice, though.
“I’m excited to play with Marcus,” says Laich, who skated with Johansson and Eric Fehr in Saturday’s 2-1 win over the Predators in Nashville. “Playing with him in practice and seeing the way that he skates and moves the puck, I think he is going to be a tremendous player.
“He’s a very fluid skater, [he has a] very strong stride. It looks like he just glides across the ice. He can cover a lot of area and he doesn’t get tired, that’s the other thing. Playing as a centerman, you’ve got to be all over the ice and support everybody. He’s still got the wheels to come back defensively and then go on the offense.
“His skating stands out as his best asset. But I think you’re going to see some other things: the vision, the ability to move the puck and I also think his shot is underrated.”
Johansson is jacked to be playing his first game in what he hopes will soon be his new professional home, the Verizon Center.
“Yeah, that’s going to be awesome,” he exudes. “I’ve heard it’s one of the loudest rinks in the league and the fans seem great. It’s going to be awesome.”
The Caps allowed 39 shots in the pre-season opener at Columbus, but trimmed that number drastically against the Preds. Washington has killed all 10 of the opposition’s manpower advantage opportunities in the first two games, and Boudreau hopes those trends continue in the upcoming games against Boston.
“We’ve only given up three goals,” points out the Caps coach. “And last game in Nashville, we only gave up  shots and they had six power plays. That’s saying a lot for when we’re playing and being aggressive and being in people’s faces, what we can stop other teams from doing. And hopefully that can continue.”
Throughout much of the off-season, the Bruins appeared to be one of the NHL’s deepest teams up the middle. With the likes of Marc Savard, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and rookie Tyler Seguin on the depth chart at center, many figured the Bruins could move one of their top three for a scoring winger. But Savard’s uncertain health status has cast some doubt over the team’s pivot situation. He has had a recurrence of the post-concussion syndrome (courtesy of a shot to the head from Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke in a game last March) that sidelined him late in 2009-10. Savard’s status for 2010-11 remains a bit cloudy.
In addition to Seguin – the second player chosen in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft – the Bruins have two other young centers with first-round pedigree who are in the mix for an opening night roster spot. Zach Hamill (eighth overall in 2007) and Joe Colborne (16th overall in 2008) are both poised to take advantage of the opening created by Savard’s absence.
Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas – the 2009 Vezina Trophy winner – has yet to play this pre-season after undergoing off-season hip surgery. He may return to action in one of the mid-week tilts against the Capitals.
Boston is 1-1-1 to date in the pre-season. After playing a pair of games with the Caps, the B’s will head overseas to play two more exhibition contests before playing their season opener against the Phoenix Coyotes in Prague on Oct. 9.
The Bruins are one of six NHL clubs that will open the 2010-11 season playing its first two games in Europe. Boston is slated to depart for the Czech Republic immediately after facing Washington on Wednesday. The Bruins’ first stop will be Belfast, Ireland. Boston has an Oct. 2 exhibition date there with the Belfast Giants.