Capitals prepare for first tuneup in Wednesday’s exhibition against Carolina

“I think we need to take this exhibition game very seriously,” winger Carl Hagelin said. “We know that Carolina is going to play hard, obviously. It is their one game before they play extremely meaningful games, so I think for us we need to be ready, and it is an opportunity for us to find our game.”

Carolina’s next game will be Saturday, when the Hurricanes open their five-game play-in series against the New York Rangers. The Capitals will be starting their three-game round-robin tournament for seeding against the other three top teams in the Eastern Conference: Tampa Bay, Philadelphia and Boston.

Wednesday’s game is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. at Scotiabank Arena. It airs on NBC Sports Network and locally on NBC Sports Washington. The Capitals will be able to dress 13 forwards, seven defensemen and two goaltenders. All 31 players on the team’s traveling roster participated in Monday’s practice, and all were expected to participate in another practice late Tuesday afternoon.

Coach Todd Reirden said Braden Holtby will start in goal against Carolina. The plan is to have Holtby play two periods and then have either Pheonix Copley or Vitek Vanecek finish the game. As of Tuesday morning, Reirden did not disclose which goaltender will suit up or who the team’s extra forward or defenseman will be.

“I think we are all looking forward to getting a real gamelike situation,” winger Garnet Hathaway said. “Even though it’s an exhibition, we haven’t played in a game in almost 140 days right now or something like that, so I think just going through the routine will be nice, getting that game day routine, warmup routine, just get familiar with it. Looking forward to it.”

Captain Alex Ovechkin said he thinks the first period is going to be “kind of weird” because the speed and intensity of the game are going to be significantly different than a scrimmage or practice. Reirden described it as a “whole new experience” for the team and one it tried to mimic during an intrasquad scrimmage Friday before the team left for Toronto.

In the games played inside the safety zones for the resumed season established by the NHL in Toronto and Edmonton, teams will face several nuanced differences because of novel coronavirus health protocols. Players are allowed to have one towel on the bench, and when that towel is used, they don’t get to use that towel again. Players will be assigned one water bottle, and it has to move with them as they shift positions on the bench.

“I could talk for the next 20 minutes if you wanted to about the things that are different that are going on for them,” Reirden said. “ … How do you get that water bottle if it’s at one end of the bench and you’re changing out of the other end? It’s just little, little things that normally aren’t things you think about.”

And while the little differences can start to add up, the biggest change will be the empty arenas.

“The biggest difference will be playing without anybody in the stands,” center Lars Eller said. “It’s still hard to wrap your head around the thought, what that’ll be like. That part will be the biggest difference, I think, where you feel like this is … different. If I had to point out one thing, that would probably be it.”

Center Nicklas Backstrom said the last time he played a meaningful hockey game in front of no fans was when he played juniors in Sweden. Hathaway joked during training camp that the last time for him was probably when he was at Brown University, where games drew small crowds.

“We want to be able to have our fans here, but at the same time, it’s safety first and that’s what it comes down to,” Backstrom said. “We’re just happy as athletes that we can start this up again. Hopefully fans will enjoy it on TV. Small steps, I think, in this pandemic, so I think that’s a good thing.”