ARLINGTON, V.A. — “Quick! Up! Feet! Speed!” were just a few of the words repeated over and over to open Washington Capitals training camp. Head coach Peter Laviolette didn’t let any of his players sit back to open training camp — and they didn’t want to let up, either.
When a drill wasn’t done right, Laviolette put his foot down, gathering his players to center ice before having them skate back and forth. From that point on, it was full-go, with each skater listening, present and exerting a full effort as if the practice was a playoff game. There were no bad attitudes. Just hockey.
RELATED: Laviolette Stops Group A Drills, Makes Them Skate On Day 2 Of Washington Capitals Training Camp
It’s a welcome sign, and that start to camp is vital for the Capitals and something that is very much needed going into what is going to be a difficult season after four consecutive first-round exits.
“It’s fast-paced, it’s high-intensity,” Dylan Strome said. “There’s a mindset in the locker room with these guys that we want to be a good team. We want to be a competitive team who makes a good run. It’s my first experience seeing something like that, so I’m excited. It’s been a lot of fun so far.”
To open the 2022-23 campaign, Washington will be without key top-6 scorers in Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson. The team will also continue to miss Carl Hagelin on the penalty kill and powerhouse fourth line. Factor in a tougher Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference as a whole, and getting off on the right foot becomes even more fundamental as the Capitals look to their aging core, new additions and young guys to step up.
“That first 20 games is very important so you have that kind of points. So if you’re going to have some ups and downs during the season, you still have those points,” captain Alex Ovechkin explained. “So you can see last year’s teams were missing one or two points. You don’t want to play only six months. You want to play eight months and play for the Cup.”
It all starts with the high-pressure camp that the team has seen so far. It kicked off with the infamous skate tests, but Friday saw experimenting with line combinations, forechecking drills, work in tight spaces and hard battles for pucks. Ovechkin led the charge, throwing his weight around and digging into the ice as he fought for every inch. The same can be said for Garnet Hathaway, Connor Brown, Marcus Johansson, Strome and several other NHLers.
READ MORE ON WHN: Washington Capitals Reveal First Look At Lines On Day 2 Of Training Camp
The off-ice work is a big part of that as well. Connor McMichael, for one, looks like he added size and muscle. As he looks to win a full-time role as the second-line center, size will be a major help as he looks to hold his own and win more battles, as well as improve on the backcheck.
For Washington, camp is going to be a long process, with more experimentation and lineups coming and changes to groups expected as the roster begins to cut down. That will give the younger prospects some time to show their NHL worth. However, starting with Group A, which consists of mainly roster players, is something Laviolette believes will make a big difference going forward.
“There will be some changes each day, but it’s a chance for our guys to get going right away and get up to speed, and we thought that was really valuable,” he said.
Still, having some fun is important, too, especially when it comes to welcoming the new players and establishing the locker room culture.
“All the guys have been really good and friendly and just making sure I feel welcome,” Brown said. “It’s been a good adjustment.”
Ultimately, though, success starts with the preseason. And setting that standard from the get-go is something that Darcy Kuemper and the group welcome as Washington looks to make it past Round 1 and recapture that Stanley Cup success it had in 2018.
“You get into practices and you start with that. And then you get to a couple preseason games, which helps as well. Gets as close to 100 percent as you can for the further exorcism,” Kuemper said.