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Capitals Training Camp Notebook: Kuznetsov, Irwin Among Non-Game Group Standouts On Day 4

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Capitals defenseman Matt Irwin is vying for a spot.

While 23 of the Washington Capitals skaters prepare for their Sunday preseason tilt vs. Boston, the non-game group took the ice early at MedStar Capitals Iceplex.

The players took part in a normal practice before closing things out with a scrimmage.

Here are some takeaways from that non-game group skate:

Michal Kempny Takes The Ice

Kempny is on the roster but a healthy scratch against the Boston Bruins, and he still hit the ice with the non-game group. He was working on his skating and also played in the scrimmage, skating on a pairing with Nick Jensen. The duo looked solid on the ice, moving the puck effectively, shutting down chances and also generating opportunities in the offensive zone.

The Czech blueliner is looking to return to NHL action and play in a full season with Washington as he comes back from three injuries to his left leg that have sidelined him and halted his comeback over the last couple of seasons.

READ MORE ON WHN: Michal Kempny Ready To Put Adversity Behind Him: ‘I Didn’t Know If I Should Laugh Or Cry’

Capitals Experiment With Lines, Power Play Units

Washington held a scrimmage for its non-game group on Sunday, allowing the team to play around with several different combinations. The Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Anthony Mantha trio was out there again and displayed a lot of chemistry, and we also saw Matt Irwin skating alongside John Carlson. Vinnie Iorio and Dru Krebs were also an impressive pairing out there, skating efficiently and communicating well.

Nic Dowd, Garnet Hathaway and Carl Hagelin haven’t lost a step and continue to maintain the same momentum. In 4-on-4, Hathaway got reps alongside Michael Sgarbossa, and Dowd skated with Hagelin. Axel-Jonsson Fjallby also played alongside a couple of the fourth-liners and ended up scoring on a beautiful snipe.

The Capitals also tested out their power-play unit, which saw Kuznetsov, Ovechkin, Mantha, Carlson and T.J. Oshie operating. Hagelin and Dowd were among those on the penalty kill.

Kuznetsov A Man On A Mission

As has been the case since the start of camp, a new-look Kuznetsov is on the ice for Washington. The 29-year-old was moving the puck well up the ice and was able to maintain possession and skate well. He was showcasing his. puck-carrying and playmaking ability all morning, while also playing with remarkable speed. Kuzy even pulled off an impressive breakaway goal against Ilya Samsonov in the team’s scrimmage and worked well with Ovechkin.

Physically, he’s skating well and looks to be in shape, and mentally, he appears present and ready. He’s not holding back in these sessions and is going full speed.

Kuznetsov is continuing to do what he can to prove he belongs in D.C. and that he can bounce back after a rough couple of years that saw two positive COVID-19 tests and a few off-ice troubles. It appears he’s ready to put that in the rearview and get to work.

READ MORE ON WHN: Kuznetsov Ready For Redemption With Capitals: ‘You Don’t Want To Feel That Pain Again’

Matt Irwin Working To Break Onto The Scene

Irwin was skating with No. 1 Carlson on Sunday and looked solid. The 6-2, 189-pound blueliner was skating well, jumping up on the rush, making strong passes and showing solid play in his own end. Washington brought in the defenseman on a one-year, two-way deal this offseason.

Peter Laviolette, who coached Irwin in Nashville, said he is “definitely in the mix” as a depth defenseman.

“He’s a steady two-way defender, he can play physical, he can move a puck, he can defend,” Laviolette said. “He played a lot of games for us in Nashville. The fact we can take him and add him to our group of defensemen is a positive because you never know what a season’s going to bring and how that depth is going to come into play. and when you get a veteran player like that who’s a great guy and he plays a steady game and he’s a good teammate, that’s a good person to have in your mix.”

Mantha Standing Out Early

Capitals forward Anthony Mantha is looking impressive out there. The 26-year-old is skating fast, playing physical and looks like he’s in solid shape. He skated alongside Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin again, and also played 4-on-4 with T.J. Oshie. Additionally, he was working on team’s power play unit, serving as a strong net-front presence.

Mantha mentioned that he wanted to work on his intensity and maintaining his top level of agility and stamina while he’s on the ice, regardless of the shift.

The Quebec native came over to D.C. as part of a blockbuster deal for Jakub Vrana at the deadline last season. He dished four goals and eight points in 14 games down the stretch with Washington before leading the team with 88 shot attempts in the playoffs, while recording two assists.

Look for him to remain impressive as he looks to skate on the top line to open the 2021-22 campaign.

Other Notes

Zach Fucale looked sharp in net for the Capitals; Bear Hughes put up an impressive bar-down tally; Hershey Bears Mason Morelli and Kale Kessy also played with grit and a jump in their game; Lucas Johansen looked solid as well and showcased his two-way game and ability to join the rush and generate scoring chances; Cody Franson was playing a physical game and appears to have picked up speed and momentum since the opening day of camp.

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