For some of the players in the Washington Capitals organization, this weekend will be the final test, the do-or-die stand for making the NHL roster before next Friday's season opener.
For the 27 players already assigned to the AHL and Baltimore, this weekend -- including tomorrow's 4 p.m. game with the Hershey Bears at the Arena -- will be the first chance to get acquainted with their new setting. For a few, it will also be a make-or-break situation.
There just isn't room for everybody, as goalie Alain Harvey, No. 7 on the depth chart, found out yesterday when he was sent home to Montreal without a team.
"I think the encouraging thing for a lot of players coming into this final weekend is that a lot of decisions haven't been made," said Skipjacks coach Robbie Laird. "Everybody will get at least one more chance, in some cases two or three, to prove themselves and show where they fit in."
The Capitals' three-in-three weekend begins tonight at the Capital Centre against Buffalo (7:35), continues tomorrow in the nightcap of the Arena doubleheader (8 p.m.) against Philadelphia and ends Sunday at the Spectrum again with the Flyers.
After tomorrow's game with the Bears -- which is usually a rough affair that sets the tone for the 16 meetings during the season -- the Jacks travel to Hersheypark Arena on Tuesday for the final exhibition.
Thus far, the most surprising casualties of the Caps' camp have been forwards John Purves and Reggie Savage, who despite impressive camps will spend another season opener with the Jacks.
"I'm not disappointed, but I can't say I expected it," said Purves, who had three goals in three exhibitions with the Caps. NO "Not this early, anyway."
Capitals coach Terry Murray said the cuts were due more to "the numbers game" than to their play in camp.
"I think I've shown that I can play at the NHL level," said Purves, alluding to his strong camp and his nine games with the Caps last year. "It's just a matter of time."
Meanwhile, newcomer Brent Hughes and Jeff Greenlaw remain with the varsity squad and should see plenty of action this weekend, as should goalie Jim Hrivnak, who appears to be a lock for the Caps if Don Beaupre continues his holdout.
"A lot hinges on what happens with Beaupre," said Murray. "We've been impressed with Jimmy. From here, it's between Donnie and [general manager] David Poile."
Unless something dramatic happens, the holdout could easily spill over into the regular season.
Beaupre reportedly made $340,000 last year as the team's No. 1 goalie and is disenchanted with the fact that backup Mike Liut will make $560,000 this year, a contract left over from his days in Hartford.
Beaupre has made it clear that he wants more cash -- a lot more cash. Poile isn't rushing to renegotiate with Beaupre, who has held out of camp three years running, and who had his contract reworked last October.
Back on the ice, the Caps will have three new faces in addition to Hughes tomorrow night -- left wing Randy Burridge and defensemen Shawn Chambers and Sylvain Cote.
The Jacks will have a plethora of new faces, but will be without injured veterans Steve Seftel (knee), Tim Taylor (knee) and Bobby Babcock (wrist). Olaf Kolzig and Byron Dafoe are battling for the Jacks' No. 1 goalie spot.
Murray said it is unlikely that both could remain in Baltimore.
"We want both of those young players in the lineup as much as possible," Murray said. "It would be almost impossible to give them the time they need to develop by keeping them both in Baltimore."