Five training camp questions facing Caps

Five training camp questions facing Caps
September 11, 2013, 4:30 pm
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Ovi has goal of winning Gold medal and Stanley Cup

The Capitals reported to Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Wednesday for physicals and off-ice testing and will hit the ice for the official start of training camp on Thursday morning.

With that in mind, here are five pressing questions heading into camp:

1. Are these Caps better or worse than the one that ended last season with a 5-0 loss to the New York Rangers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals?

Well, the Caps lost second-line center Mike Ribeiro and fourth-line banger Matt Hendricks and replaced them with Mikhail Grabovski. While Grabovski should fit in well on the second line, it’s hard to put him in an offensive category with Ribeiro, who was tied with Alex Ovechkin for the NHL lead in power-play points with 27.  And unless Michael Latta makes the team as a fourth-line disruptive force, there’s no one that replaces Hendricks.

If you factor in the fact that Marty Erat and Brooks Laich are healthy, these Caps are certainly better than the one that lost Game 7 in embarrassing fashion. It’s also worth noting the Caps went 15-2-2 down the stretch last season and there should be no learning curve under second-year coach Adam Oates this time around.

2. Is Brooks Laich healthy, and if so, where will he play this season?

By all indications Laich has fully recovered from the groin problems that sidelined him for all but nine games last season, including the playoffs. This time last month Laich was the Caps’ No. 2 center. But when the Caps signed Grabovski, Adam Oates decided Laich’s game is better suited for left wing, where he’ll begin the season on the second or third line.

3. Who will play alongside John Carlson as the Caps’ fourth defenseman this season?

Take your pick from the following list of left-handed blue liners: John Erskine, Dmitry Orlov, Jack Hillen, Tomas Kundratek, Nate Schmidt. Right now it’s Erskine’s job to lose, but the Caps would love to see Orlov rebound from his concussion-plagued season and be the hard-skating, hard-hitting defenseman he was as a rookie two years ago.

4. What kind of shape is Alex Ovechkin in?

Ovechkin says he’s probably 70 to 75 percent, in terms of game shape. Much of that is because he spent five weeks in a walking boot after suffering a hairline fracture in his left foot in Game 6 of the Caps-Rangers series. Ovechkin played three games with the injury -- two for the Caps and one for Team Russia in the World Championships.

Ovechkin said he was able to begin full workouts midway through the summer but will need to ramp up his skating in the three weeks of training camp. Ovechkin’s stamina will be tested in the Oct. 1 season opener in Chicago, which will come after the soon-to-be-28-year-old captain returns from a two-day excursion to Greece for the Olympic torch lighting.

5. What will it take for Tom Wilson to make the team?

A dominant preseason. The Caps like everything Wilson brings – mostly his size and snarl -- but he needs to play third-line minutes to justify a roster spot. If Wilson makes the team out of camp, someone will have to go to make room for his salary and that could mean veterans Jason Chimera, Joel Ward or Erskine are shopped around the NHL.

The Caps can play Wilson in nine regular season games before deciding whether to return him to his junior team in Plymouth, Ontario. If he plays 10 NHL games he burns up the first year of his entry-level deal.