With every pre-season game that passes, the Washington Capitals have turned up the intensity a little bit each time. Last night against the Buffalo Sabres, before a not-quite packed house at Verizon Center, they did so again in beating the Sabres 4-3 in a six-round shootout.
Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and Matt Hendricks all scored in regular time and Tomas Vokoun made 21 saves on 24 shots to lead the Caps to their second pre-season win. After a scoreless overtime, the game went to a shootout, where the normal three rounds just weren't enough. Backstrom beat Ryan Miller on the Caps sixth try and Vokoun stopped Luke Adam to finally secure the victory.
The Caps played loosely in their own end in the first two periods, with all three sets of defensemen breaking down, leading to scoring chances. But in the third period the Caps played with more intensity and attention to detail, limiting the Sabres to just three shots in the final frame.
"Even though we were faced with some adversity there in the first couple periods, we didn't give up," said Mike Green from the victorious locker room. "We showed our character."
Green thinks the gradual transition in intensity is an inherent thing. "I think it's natural. I think now we're starting to wind down to our roster and guys are getting ready to actually play and get focused on the season. I feel like training camp is one thing, once the season starts you change your mind-frame."
Matt Hendricks agrees with his teammate on the natural progression. "I think what helps is that we're getting a little more comfortable with what we're doing with each other. I think when you're hesitating you're thinking too much out there. The game doesn't seem to be as fast as you kind of get that underneath of you. You start picking up the speed, things start to get more physical and I think that was evident tonight."
Coach Bruce Boudreau chalked much of the uneven play of the first two frames to miscommunication as a result of having most of his regulars on the ice together for the first time this pre-season. But talking things out in the second intermission seemed to lead to the better focus, especially on defense.
"I thought the energy and the forechecking in the first two periods was pretty good," Boudreau said. "We got the results in the third period, but I think a lot of it was we worked hard in the first two periods. But it was consistant for 60 minutes, which we hadn't done [thus far]. In the previous five games, in Chicago we were good for forty minutes, in Columbus we were good for the last 20 minutes, and you can go on and on. We were good for portions of the game but it was important I think for us to get 'game legs' and game shape for 60 minutes."
The Capitals face Chicago again for the pre-season finale on Sunday at 5:00 pm at Verizon Center. It's the last tune up before the games start to count next Saturday, when the intensity will surely be much higher than any of these pre-season games. After training camp and a seven-game pre-season, the players, coaches and fans are all ready to get things going for real.