Caps pile up scoring chances, top-notch preseason win over Bruins in OT

Spencer Carbery wanted his Capitals to get off to a good start Tuesday night at Boston’s TD Garden. Washington’s coach got his wish when Connor McMichael opened the scoring just 26 seconds into the game, but the Bruins answered 27 seconds later. That set the stage for a fruitful back-and-forth duel – not quite the display of structure and polish that Carbery was aiming for in the Capitals’ fourth preseason game.

Forward Matthew Phillips scored the winning goal for Washington at 4:04 of overtime, giving the Capitals a 5-4 win and increasing their preseason record to 2-1-1.

Forwards Tom Wilson and Sonny Milano and defenseman John Carlson also scored goals for Washington. Darcy Kuemper made his first preseason appearance and played the entire game, stopping 16 of 20 shots. After allowing goals on the Bruins’ first two shots, he largely got used to it.

“I thought we did a lot of good in a close game where it kind of seemed like there was more at stake than there really was,” Carbery told reporters in Boston. “Really good from our group.”

Here’s what you need to know about the Capitals’ preseason win:

McMichael makes a claim

When the battle for the final roster spot at forward is discussed, McMichael’s name is conspicuous by its absence. He has stood out since the first days of training camp and as it comes to a close, his spot on the roster appears secure.

The confidence the 22-year-old McMichael gained from winning the Calder Cup with Hershey, Washington’s American Hockey League affiliate, is evident every time he’s on the ice. One of the biggest signs that a young player is ready for the NHL level is the way he handles the puck: McMichael wants the puck on his stick now – and he makes things happen, if he is there.

“If you know Connor McMichael, you’ve always seen that in him,” said Carbery, who coached McMichael at Hershey in 2021. “He is confident in his abilities. He has swagger. … He has developed a lot. It is now on display. He looked the same to me [in Hershey]but now he looks the same in the best league in the world.”

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McMichael had 10 shots on goal Tuesday — five more than Wilson, the next closest player — in 15:14. In addition to the backhander he passed to Boston goalkeeper Linus Ullmark for the first goal of the game, McMichael had a dangerous presence in the second and third periods and had a chance to score in overtime.

McMichael skated on the left wing alongside centers Nicklas Backstrom and Wilson and had an impact on nearly every shift, whether he was creating scoring opportunities and firing shots at Ullmark or winning battles along the boards and passing the puck to his linemates.

A year ago, McMichael had a chance to be the Capitals’ second center in the season opener, but a poor training camp left him in the press box at Capital One Arena. This time it is obvious that McMichael will be in the lineup against Pittsburgh on October 13th.

“I think I’m just doing a lot more plays that I wouldn’t have done a few years ago,” he said. “… Now that’s a testament to my confidence.”

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The fast-paced message penetrates

Since being hired in May, Carbery has emphasized the pace at which he wants the Capitals to play. The preseason is all about preparing for the upcoming 82 games, so the pace has steadily increased for Washington each game. Against the Bruins, this often led to relentless offensive pressure – from all four lines.

“We looked like a completely different team than last year,” Kuemper said. “We were quick and set the pace. It was a lot of fun to be out there and watch the guys play. I’m sure they had a lot of fun playing like that too.”

Ullmark, who won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender last season, thwarted the Capitals’ numerous chances and kept the game from becoming one-sided. But Washington outscored the Bruins 41-20, and according to Natural Stat Trick, the Capitals had 43 scoring chances to Boston’s 23 – and 22 of Washington’s were rated extremely dangerous, compared to just seven for Boston.

The defensive details still need to be refined. The Bruins scored their first two goals with nearly identical coverage distributions, and the game was open the entire time. But the Capitals’ offense is in full swing as the preseason nears its end.

In preseason hockey, a tight defensive structure isn’t the place to be, so it won’t be as easy for Washington to create an offense in the regular season. But as they familiarize themselves with what Carbery wants from them, early signs suggest the Capitals have embraced their new offensive system.

“Especially in the last ten minutes, we really got to them and generated a lot,” McMichael said. “I just think this is the hockey we have to play for the entire 60 years [minutes]. There aren’t many teams that can beat us when we play like that.” Caps pile up scoring chances, top-notch preseason win over Bruins in OT

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