Training camp has been under way for a week, and a number of veterans have stood out in the crowd, but as the Washington Capitals began their first preseason road trip, coach Jim Schoenfeld was eager to see what his team could do under pressure.
"Preseason games tell you the story," said Schoenfeld, whose Capitals opened with an 8-6 victory over the Senators last night in Ottawa, Ontario. "Intrasquad scrimmages don't have the intensity of preseason games. In the squad scrimmages there are friends against friends. This is different. In preseason games, players on both sides want to prove how good they are."
The Capitals have a number of questions to answer:
* Who will play in goal?
The fight is on between veteran Don Beaupre and the four contenders. Beaupre, who turns 33 next Monday, earned the No. 1 spot by the end of last season, but the job is again up for grabs.
Rick Tabaracci, 25, who a year ago was given every chance to nail down the top job but couldn't, at least partially because of injuries, already has a groin injury that will keep him sidelined indefinitely.
Then there are last season's rookies, Olie Kolzig, 24, and Byron Dafoe, 23, who the Capitals hope will be the future. The newcomer is Jim Carey, who was sitting in a classroom at the University of Wisconsin when he changed his mind about continuing with the Badgers for his junior year and decided to sign a four-year contract with Washington.
The Caps' plan is to carry two goalies in Portland and two with the parent club, and it is pretty obvious something will have to happen to one of the five -- unless someone gets injured or the Caps make the unusual decision to keep three goalies.
"I don't look at the arrival of Carey as being any more pressure on them," said Schoenfeld. "They've each got to beat the others anyway. What difference does it make if it's one more? Hopefully, they all want to be No. 1.
"None of them has stood out yet," he added. "No one has been extremely good or bad. It's early. It's these preseason games that will begin to tell us how they're going to respond."
* How will the defense shape up in the absence of team captain Kevin Hatcher?
Hatcher is holding out and evidently considering a $1 million minor-league offer from the Detroit Vipers of the International League.
"Obviously, we'd like to have everyone signed and in camp, but if Kevin isn't signed, we'll win hockey games without him," said Schoenfeld. "Life isn't always ideal, but we're going to win no matter what guys we put on the ice."
In the mix from which Schoenfeld expects to sort out his defensive pairings are Calle Johansson, back at 100 percent after recovering from last postseason's leg injury, Sylvain Cote, Jimmy Johnson, Joe Reeke, John Slaney, Jason Woolley, Todd Nelson and the ever-mysterious Brendan Witt.
The Capitals hoped to sign Witt last season and have him playing alongside Hatcher, but could not reach a financial agreement. Witt, 6 feet 1 and 210 pounds, returned to the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League.
* Who will man the wing positions alongside Joe Juneau?
Yesterday, Schoenfeld said it was too early to tell who would emerge as line mates.
When asked who was having a good camp, however, the coach specifically pointed to veterans Pat Peake, Kelly Miller, Randy Burridge, Rob Pearson, Craig Berube, Cote and Johansson.