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Takeaways: Gustafsson, Young Guys Get A Look, Capitals Fall To Sabres

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Washington Capitals

WASHINGTON, D.C. — There weren’t too many familiar faces as the Washington Capitals took the ice against the Buffalo Sabres for their preseason opener, as it was the new guys and prospects’ turns to make a statement as training camp continues.

While regulars Anthony Mantha and Conor Sheary got on the board, along with Herndon, V.A. native Joe Snively, Erik Gustafsson, Aliaksei Protas and several of the new faces got the chance to impress, too. However, a late penalty and power-play goal ultimately led to a 4-3 overtime loss to the Sabres.

Here are all the takeaways from the defeat at Capital One Arena:

Erik Gustafsson Arrives In D.C.

Gustafsson played his first game in a Capitals sweater, and he looked solid. The 30-year-old blueliner was among the team’s best players in Sunday’s matinee and showcased his skating and puck-moving ability. Gustafsson led all skaters with four shots (tied with Garrett Pilon) and also logged the most minutes with 20:36 TOI. The Swede also made the most of his time on special teams, dishing a great assist on Mantha’s power-play goal to open the scoring in the first period.

The only downside: he took a late holding penalty in regulation that led to a power-play goal and a game-tying tally for the Sabres, and he was on the ice for the OT winner against.

Aliaksei Protas Gains A Step

After playing 33 games up with Washington last year, Aliaksei Protas is eager to return as a regular this season. The 21-year-old has been able to build on his skating and looks much faster and more confident out there. Protas took good care of the puck and also drove a lot of opportunities in the offensive zone, using his 6-6 frame to his advantage.

Ultimately, he got on the scoresheet with a helper as he wheeled past the defences and picked up the puck for a 2-on-1 break. He then found a flying Sheary wide open to tie the game at 2.

Hendrix Lapierre Continues To Build Case

Hendrix Lapierre didn’t find the scoresheet, but he did all the little things right and stood out when it came to his two-way play and play without the puck. The 20-year-old, who put on nearly 10 pounds of muscle this summer, didn’t shy away from throwing his weight around and got in on puck battles. He has also improved when it comes to his positioning, and he’s doing what he can to get to the right places in both zones. Looking at him coming into 2022-23, he’s gotten bigger, stronger and faster, and that was on display here as well.

His most impressive stat, though, came in the face-off dot; he dominated in that category, winning seven of nine draws (78 percent). He also utilized his speed and strong skating to get to the right areas and generate several opportunities.

RELATED: Washington Capitals’ Lapierre Told To ‘Calm Down’ While Adding Size This Offseason

Blue Line Shows Promise; Dru Krebs & Vincent Iorio Stand Out

Beyond Gustafsson, Washington saw a lot of promising things from its blueliners. The Martin Fehervary-Vincent Iorio pairing brought a lot of physicality and size, and Iorio also got a couple of good looks thanks to his rocket of a shot. However, one name that took a step forward: Dru Krebs.

At the end of regulation, Krebs led all Capitals skaters in ice time while also getting time on the power play and penalty kill, logging over 20 minutes. What stands out most about his play is his skating and awareness in his own zone; he took good care of the puck and was able to track it down and effectively move it up ice and out of harm’s way. He also won his board battles and didn’t shy away from tying up or laying the body on his opponents. The 2021 sixth-rounder, who faced his older brother Peyton in Sunday’s game, also got a few good looks with some strong shots to boot.

Iorio also impressed with his mobility, size and battle, but what stood out most for No. 38 was his booming shot. It was his blistering slapshot from the point that led to Snively’s goal on a deflection in front. That also marked Iorio’s first NHL preseason point.

READ MORE ON WHN: Iorio Opens Up About Big Personality, Pursuit Of Washington Capitals

Connor McMichael Gets Chance At Center

McMichael got to play a full 60 minutes at center between Mantha and Alexander Suzdalev, and he did a solid job down the middle. The 21-year-old, who added a bit of size this offseason, took good care of the puck and got to the dangerous areas in front. He also had quite a few good looks, including an open shot off a Suzdalev drop pass, but he couldn’t finish on them.

Group A Seems Like Place To Be, But Changes Still Coming For Capitals

Ice Chips

  • Zach Fucale and Hunter Shepard split the game on Sunday. Fucale stopped 15 of 17 (.882 save percentage) and came up with a couple of big stops while also getting across quickly when it came to shutting down rebounds. Shepard made his NHL preseason debut and stopped 9 of 11 shots (.818)
  • Fehervary led the Capitals with seven hits.
  • McMichael, Iorio and Protas took penalties, but the team went 3-for-3 on the PK.
  • Suzdalev showed off his quick hands and had some solid dangles as well.
  • The Hanelt-Hofer-Pilon line generated some good chances, too. They got to the front of the net, generated chances and screens and also drew a penalty.
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