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Capitals Postgame

Capitals Postgame: Kuemper Rusty In Debut; Will Phillips Crack The NHL Roster?



Boston Bruins left wing Milan Lucic (17) takes a shot on Washington Capitals goaltender Darcy Kuemper (35) during the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Parts of it weren’t pretty, but the Washington Capitals emerged with another preseason win Tuesday night.

The Capitals were off to a quick start, but were quickly overtaken by the Boston Bruins, who took to the ice with many of their NHL regulars. But a few lucky moments were able to push the Capitals ahead and, ultimately, give them the win.

As the Capitals roster shrinks and the roster deadline nears, there were plenty of notes to take away from the Capitals’ 5-4 victory.

Milano-Strome-Phillips Line An Intriguing Option

Matthew Phillips is on the bubble, contending for one of the few remaining Capitals roster spots. Thriving on a line with two NHL regulars is definitely helping his case.

Tuesday marked the second straight game in which Phillips — at left wing — lined up with right winger Sonny Milano and center Dylan Strome. Each of the three tallied a point against Boston, mere days after the unit combined for five points against Detroit, with the icing on the cake Tuesday being Phillips scoring the game-winner.

Where Phillips fits on this Capitals roster has been debated since he joined the organization this summer, and will likely still continue past Monday’s roster deadline. But regardless, he’s making a very, very strong argument why he should start the season in the NHL, and there’s no doubt that tough decisions are looming for Brian MacLellan and company.

Darcy Kuemper’s Rusty Game 1

It was a rough start for Darcy Kuemper, with the only saving grace being that it was his first game action since April.

Connor McMichael’s early goal gave the Capitals a quick lead only a minute in — a lead that was not only surrendered 30 seconds later, but was taken by the Bruins within the game’s first three minutes. It appeared that Kuemper was simply beat on both goals, unlike Hunter Shepard struggling with screens against the Red Wings on Saturday.

The Bruins were able to push two more past Kuemper by night’s end. He finished the night having blocked 16 of 20 shots.

Not a great start to the season for the Capitals’ $26.25 million man, who enters this year with a chip on his shoulder. After winning the Stanley Cup with Colorado in 2022, Kuemper joined the Capitals and struggled mightily, finishing with a save percentage of .907 — excluding a 27-game season due to an MCL injury in 2020-21, his worst rate since the 2016-17 season.

The rust is to be expected for sure, and only amplified against the likes of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and others. But for those expecting a new and improved Kuemper, it was not a good night.

Connor McMichael Proving He Belongs

It seems like a guarantee that Connor McMichael has a home with the Washington Capitals at the end of the preseason — MacLellan said as much this offseason.

But if anything, he’s playing like he’s still got something to prove. And what he did prove Tuesday night is that he’s ready.

The 22-year-old forward, despite playing on the wing and away from his natural center position, posted a team-high 10 shots in addition to the game’s first goal — coming a mere 26 seconds into the game.

McMichael, who spent most of last season in the AHL, will inject much-needed youth into the Capitals’ aging roster. If he can consistently impact the game the way he did Tuesday, he’ll be a major piece for the team moving forward.

Jared Serre covers the Washington Capitals for Washington Hockey Now. He is a graduate of West Virginia University.