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The Narrative: The Lineup, Experience and One for the Road

Three things we’re talking about today when we’re talking about the Caps

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NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

1. Here’s what Todd Reirden is likely to throw out there tonight to begin the Caps’ title defense:

Of note, the John Carlson - Nick Jensen pair that we discussed the other day, and another new(ish) twist: Carl Hagelin and Jakub Vrana swapping spots (I’d also have Travis Boyd in there over Chandler Stephenson, but there are only so many nits we’re going to pick today). In the immediate aftermath of the Hagelin acquisition, we discussed the possibility of he and Evgeny Kuznetsov skating together in order to mitigate some of the latter’s defensive shortcomings, and that’s probably the driver here (along with the hope that the Caps’ depth advantage will result in the third line feasting on Carolina’s bottom-six).

So those are two fairly big lineup tweaks that will be under the microscope as the series starts (and kudos, I suppose, to anyone who thought the Caps acquired a top-six winger and top-pair defenseman at the deadline). Needless to say, there’s a thin line between making necessary adaptations and overthinking things, and with a rookie head coach, it’s even easier for decisions to look like the latter. But adjustments are the name of the game this time of year, and it will be interesting to see how Todd Reirden fares with his.

Oh, and then there’s this little nugget...

2. The Caps have won more playoff series in the past 12 months than the Hurricanes have in the past 12 years. In fact, the last time Carolina even made the playoffs was in 2009; the last time they won a playoff game came the day after the Penguins eliminated the Caps in that gut-punch of a Game 7. (Too soon?)

Anyway, with the Caps having the second-longest active playoff streak in hockey (and the longest streak with at least one series win) and half of the Hurricanes roster unable to grow a beard yet, you get stats like this:

We talked a bit about experience in this space yesterday, and while experience in and of itself doesn’t win games or series, it’s not nothing. As T.J. Oshie put it:

“You learned what it takes, what each individual guy has to sacrifice to get the job done. So we’re excited to try and climb that mountain again, win some games (and) win some series.”

For a team that spent nearly a decade being derided (fairly or, far more often, not) as mentally fragile chokers unwilling to do what it takes to win, that tag has been retired, for now at least, and replaced with “Champs.” And it’s been one hell of an experience.

3. The playoffs got underway last night with road teams taking three of the five series openers. The Caps will try to avoid joining that club of favorites who will have to dig out of an early hole... though they certainly showed last year that that deficit is by no means insurmountable, as they rallied after dropping the first two games at home in the Columbus series and the first match in the subsequent Pittsburgh series.

Still, it would, of course, be nice to hold serve at home (the last time they did so - winning Games 1 and 2 of a series on home ice - was Round 1 against the Flyers in 2016). Via the League:

Two home teams and three road clubs won on the opening night of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Teams that take a 1-0 lead in a best-of-seven playoff series own an all-time series record of 467-214 (68.5%), including a 327-106 (75.5%) mark when those wins come on home ice and a 140-108 (56.4%) clip when earned as visitors.

A win tonight would go a long way towards a series victory... 25 percent of the way, in fact.

Let’s go ChAmPS.