The swollen and bruised Russians are dressed and practicing this morning. None were making the trip to Carolina today anyway. Their commarade Ovechkin is anything but beat up; he was in his usual Acela Express super stride, and he made a point of turning this morning’s 9:30 practice partly into his own personal competition with Olie Kolzig, dancing hip jigs at scores and uttering rink-wide-audible, English-blended-with-Russian oaths at his failures, during every drill. (For his part Kolzig didn’t man his crease quietly during the challenge.)
Another entertaining portion of the day’s first practice arrived at its end, when Hershey Bears’ bench men Bruce Boudreau and Bob Woods, who ran practice, placed 10 pucks on the two bluelines and divided the session’s skaters into two teams for a quasi-shootout showdown. I was wondering how early into camp I’d see the Caps try and address last season’s shootout woes. My recollection is that Hershey didn’t fare much better, so it may have have been a mutually beneficial endeavor. But this drill was as much relatively relaxed fun as anything else, and you could hear and see the enthusiam in every skater.
Players were seated on the two benches, and rotated taking shots. When a player failed in his shot he had to retrieve the puck and skate it back to the blueline and “tag up” with the next skater. The competition only ended when one team had bettered its goaltender with all 10 pucks. Jacub Klepis was by far the most impressive shooter, potting three behind losing netminder Kolzig in very elite hands fashion.
You try and remind yourself that barely a long weekend’s worth of camp has been completed, but with it so compressed now, actually, by day’s end, camp will be about one-fifth completed. The Caps have already made cuts.
Over camp’s first three days Brian Sutherby has been a standout performer. His stride, too, has been strong — he’s absolutely flying out there, skating as well as I’ve ever seen. After today’s first session I asked if him if he’d done anything new or distinctive with his training this summer. This biggest change, he told me, was getting back on the ice a lot earlier than usual.
“I started skating twice a week in early June, which a lot of guys don’t do,” he said. “I also worked on my strength, just trying to get stronger.”
“I want to get lower [in my stride]. You see how low guys like Nylander and Crosby get in their strides . . . taller guys have to work at it.”
His long battle with a troubling groin appears to be in the past. “It’ll never be 100 percent,” he told me. “I battled it a long time, and it feels great now. I think I’ve put [that concern] to bed for the most part.”
I also asked him to try and place this year’s camp into context with the other half dozen or so he’s completed with the Caps. I wanted to know how far he’d thought the organization had come since his arrival in it.
“Compared to the first couple of camps, we’re getting right there, with where we want to be,” he told me. “Back when I first got here, we were supposed to be good — we had guys like Jagr. Now it’s a lot different. We have a lot of depth. We have a lot of young guys but they’ve got 150, 200 games in the league.”
Reminder: today’s matinee exhibition opener in Carolina will be audiocast on the Caps’ web site, with Mike Vogel teaming with Steve Kolbe on the call.