- A Capitals player models the team's new 2010-2011 mindset (Photo: TBD Staff)
The Washington Capitals had their rookie scrimmage on Thursday. On Saturday, they were joined by the rest of the team at the Kettler Iceplex for the first official day of training camp. The Capitals face at least a seven-month, 82-game grind to shed the label they've been given (fairly or unfairly) as regular season world-beaters, but postseason patsies.
The Capitals know about the labels all too well, and they're not happy about them. Their mindset is reflected in the slogan emblazoned on the back of the team's official training camp T-shirts.
"Stay angry," the shirt reads. "Believe in yourselves."
"I thought they did a good job with that," Capitals General Manager George McPhee said of the slogan after yesterday's practice. "That's the way everyone feels about the way things ended last season. For six-and-a-half months, we had a fabulous season, and in five days, we lost it."
Alexander Ovechkin, meanwhile, was not dwelling on the sudden end to 2009-10. "I think it's done," Ovechkin said. "It's a new season. No looking back." Ovechkin added that he hadn't looked at any film of the Montreal series, but training camp had started right at the perfect time.
"It was a long summer," Ovechkin said. "I missed hockey."
By and large, the roster the Capitals passed out to the media on the first day of training camp is the same as the one that finished last season, with a couple exceptions. There's Eric Belanger's not there, much to his displeasure. Neither is Jose Theodore, who backstopped the Capitals to playoff appearances in each of his two seasons in Washington. That means that the time has come for the young goalkeeping tandem of Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth, both 22 years old, to prove that they are worth the faith the Capitals invested in them by picking them 23rd and 34th overall, respectively, in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
"We've been waiting for them to have this opportunity," McPhee said Saturday. "We're very high on both of these guys, and we were very lucky to get these guys when we did. We've developed both of them exactly the way we wanted, and part of the reason we signed Jose Theodore was to give ourselves a bridge to this point."
So Capitals fans shouldn't see the contest between Varlamov and Neuvirth as a winner-take-all affair. Not right away, anyway. As McPhee explained, "These guys are young guys, and to ask one of them to shoulder the load for 60 or 70 games -- it's just too much pressure. It's much more preferable to have each of them play 40 games each to start. Now, in the process of doing that, we may find one of them can play 60 or 70 games in a season."
From Neuvirth's point of view, the fraternity of goaltenders wins out over any competition for time the two might undergo. "He's a great goalie, and I like working with him. I learn a lot from him," he said Saturday. "He's a hard worker, and that pushes me to work harder and get stronger."
By the sound of it, they'll be pushing each other a lot this season.