We are back with the weekly look at the upcoming games for the Washington Capitals, and this Opening Week is one that will see some important pieces missing from the lineup. The absences provide an opportunity for others to step up, though, and we will see if those called upon to do so will help get the Caps off to a good start on the new season.
Boston Bruins (Wednesday/7:00 pm at Capital One Arena)
The Boston Bruins have been one of the most consistently excellent teams in recent years. In 15 seasons since 2007-2008, the B’s topped 40 wins 12 times, twice missing that mark because of abbreviated seasons in 2012-2013 (28 wins in 48 games) and in 2020-2021 (33 wins in 56 games. Only in 2009-2010 did Boston play a full 82-game slate and miss the 40-win mark. They had 39 that season.
Last season they won 51 games (tied with Tampa Bay for seventh-most in the league) largely with defense and goaltending. Their 2.66 goals allowed per game were fourth-best in the league, and the 28.7 shots allowed per game were third fewest in the league. They also had a physical dimension, averaging 26.67 hits per 60 minutes, third highest in the league. Boston did stray over the rule book line often last season, their 4.20 penalties taken per 60 minutes being the fourth highest penalty rate in the league, while their net penalties per 60 minutes of minus-0.34 was the third worst mark in the league. No team took more minor penalties that did Boston, the 312 minors they took tied with Nashville for most in the league.
While not among the league leaders in team scoring offense (3.09 goals per game/15th), they were reasonably balanced with five skaters posting 20 or more goals and nine posting double digit totals in goals. Of that latter group of double digit goal scorers, only Erik Haula is not returning to the Bruins this season, having been traded to the New Jersey Devils for Pavel Zacha last July.
Boston must contend with some serious injury issues to start the season with defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk, and forwards Brad Marchand and Taylor Hall on the shelf with injuries or rehabilitation from surgery.
This will be the 175th regular season meeting between the Cap and Bruins, Washington posting a 69-76-8 record (21 ties) all-time and a 37-34-4 (12 ties) record on home ice.
Toronto Maple Leafs (Thursday/7:30 pm at Scotiabank Arena)
The puck drops on the road portion of the Capitals’ regular season with the second half of a back-to-back set of games to start the season. They will visit the Toronto Maple Leafs in their home opener on Thursday night. The Leafs looked to be on their way to eliminating the Tampa Bay Lightning in last spring’s first round of the playoffs, taking a 3-2 lead in games and a 3-2 lead into the third period of Game 6 in Tampa. But the Lightning scored mid-way through the third period and then scored 18 minutes into overtime to tie the series, winning the first-round matchup with a 2-1 win in Game 7. Another disappointment for the Leafs, whose fans have known little else since they last won a Stanley Cup in 1967. Theirs is now the longest drought without a Cup in the league at 54 seasons and counting.
Toronto is a largely offense-first team of the sort that harkens back to the go-go teams of the 1980’s. They finished with an average of 3.80 goals per game last season, second highest in the league (Florida: 4.11) and the most they averaged per game since finishing the 1989-1990 season with an average of 4.21 goals per game. Their power play was especially lethal, converting 27.3 percent of their chances, best power play in the league. What might have saved opponents from further damage from the power play was that Toronto did not get to deploy it as might as they might have liked. They averaged 2.82 power play chances per game, 21st in the league.
With an offense-oriented team, it is sometimes the case that the defensive side of the puck suffers. Toronto was not what one would call an air-tight team last season, but they did have a decent season. Their 3.07 goals allowed per game ranking 19th in the league last season, while their shots allowed per game (30.6) was a respectable ninth in the league, and their 82.1 percent penalty kill ranked eighth. They also allowed only 3,522 shot attempts at 5-on-5, which was ninth-fewest in the league.
This will be the 153rd regular season meeting of the Caps and Maple Leafs, Washington holding a 76-59-7 (ten ties) edge over Toronto and with a 29-35-4 (six ties) record in Toronto.
Montreal Canadiens (Saturday/7:00 pm at Capital One Arena)
The Caps close out the first week of the season hosting the Montreal Canadiens at Capital One Arena. The Canadiens had what was arguably their worst season in their history last year, the 22 wins they posted being the fewest they recorded in any season since the league went to a 70-game season in 1949-1950. Their .335 points percentage was third-worst in team history, regardless of the number of games played. Only the 1925-1926 team (.319) and 1939-1940 team (.260) were worse. It was not a fluke. Montreal ranked at or near the bottom of several statistical categories – scoring offense (2.66 goals per game/27th), scoring defense (3.87 goals against per game/32nd), power play (13.7 percent/31st), penalty kill (75.6 percent/27th), shots per game (29.8/23rd), shots allowed per game (34.4/30th), winning percentage when scoring first (.533/29th), winning percentage when trailing first (.115/30th), shot attempts percentage on-ice at 5-on-5 (46.9/26th), penalties taken (341/fifth-most), not penalties (minus-27/29th).
It was a case of digging a deep hole early, losing their first five games last season and scoring a total of only four goals in doing so, and not winning their tenth game of the season until Game 50. Sixteen times over those first 50 games they scored one or no goals. Seven times they allowed six or more goals. They had only two players with at least 20 goals (Cole Caufield: 23, and Nick Suzuki: 21) and only seven in double digits. The Canadiens did get at least one goal from 11 different defensemen, which would sound more impressive had they not resorted to dressing 14 defensemen last season, only one of them for more than 70 games (Alexander Romanov with 79). None of the 22 players who skated more than 25 games finished the season with a plus rating.
If there was a silver lining in the Category 5 storm that was Montreal’s season, it was in putting Martin St. Louis behind the Canadiens’ bench as a replacement for Dominique Ducharme after the Canadiens got off to a dismal 8-30-7 start. St. Louis did coax a 14-19-4 record (a 79-point pace over 82 games) out of a team with little to play for, standings-wise, and that while still enduring a nine-game losing streak late in the season. He did make them a more energetic and difficult team to play against in the last half of the season, and if can squeeze another level of improvement out of this year’s squad, Montreal will not be nearly the push over they were for long stretches last season.
This will be the 175th meeting of these two teams, the Caps holding a 77-74-6 (17 ties) advantage, 40-34-3 (nine ties) on home ice.
- Alex Ovechkin. In 17 home openers coming into this season, Ovechkin is 21-11-32, plus-14. He has at least one goal in 12 of the 17 games and points in 14 of them.
- John Carlson. Carlson led the Caps in preseason points (1-5-6 in three games).
- Dylan Strome. Strome had three goals in four preseason games.
- Connor McMichael. Different season, same song. McMichael played in four of the six preseason games with diminishing ice times as the games progressed: 15:55 / 14:30 / 11:16 / 8:51.
- Marcus Johansson. In three preseason games, Johansson had one assist and one shot on goal.
- Evgeny Kuznetsov. In three preseason games, Kuznetsov recorded ten shots on goal but did not convert any of them.
- This will be only the 22nd opening night that the Caps have played on home ice, posting a 15-5-1 record in 21 previous season openers at home. They are 9-14-1 with two ties in 26 Opening Night games on the road.
- Turnover is one of the realities of life in the NHL, but only two skaters from last year’s Opening Night against the New York Rangers are out of the organization – Justin Schultz and Daniel Sprong, both now playing for Seattle (and for good measure, so is Michal Kempny, who missed last year’s Opening Night with an injury). On the other hand, both goalies who dressed on Opening Night last year are gone – Ilya Samsonov to Toronto and Vitek Vanecek to New Jersey.
- The Caps have two home games this week. If they finish plus-6 in goal differential, they will have as many all-time goals scored as allowed (currently 11,718 goals scored and 11,724 goals allowed).
Potential Milestones to Reach This Week (or soon):
- 600 career points (he currently has 593)
- 300 career penalty minutes (290)
- 200 career assists (195)
- 200 points as a Capital (192)
- 200 games as a Capital (198)
- 300 points as a Capital (296)
- 300 career NHL games (299)
- 600 career NHL games (599)
- 500 career points (496)
- 200 penalty minutes as a Capital (199)
- 100 even strength goals as a Capital (99)
- 122 career game-winning goals (121, would break tie for second place all-time with Gordie Howe)
- 29 career hat tricks (28, would break three-way tie with Marcel Dionne and Bobby Hull for sixth place all-time)
- 159 career multi-goal games (158, would break tie with Brett Hull for second place all-time)
- 400 career multi-point games (397)