Now that the chaos of NHL free agency has simmered, some of the big signings across the league have bolstered some new dates for each team’s fanbase to circle. The 2022-23 schedule was released on July 6, and since then, the Washington Capitals have added some must-see matchups outside of the now-stronger Metropolitan Division clashes. As such, it’s panning out to be a tough road to get back to the playoffs.
Capitals Have Plenty of Great Matchups Ahead
Since free agency began on July 13, both the Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils have seemingly bettered their rosters. The Carolina Hurricanes also made some moves to help keep their reign at the top of the Metro, and the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins aren’t going anywhere either. Also, just because they weren’t mentioned in the above grouping, the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers are always tough to play against.
Not only is the division loaded, but the Eastern Conference is as well, and though there was much disparity between the top- and bottom-eight teams last season, the wild card spots should be up for grabs in 2022-23. Here are some key matchups for Capitals fans to mark down on their calendars, including seeing their exes early and welcoming the champs in November.
Oct. 12 vs. Boston Bruins
This game will be the season opener for both teams – the home opener for the Capitals – and also a pairing of both wild card teams from last season. These squads always put on an intense battle, possibly because they are in similar positions. The stars on each roster are aging and both teams are coming off fourth-place finishes in their respective divisions. They may also be jostling for the second wild card spot next spring, and one may come up short of the postseason.
Oct. 13 at Toronto Maple Leafs
This isn’t about Washington’s first road game of the season, nor the fact they have to travel north of the border for a game the day after their opener. It may not work out this way, but if the Maple Leafs want to see what they have in Washington’s ex-goaltender Ilya Samsonov, this would be a great early test. Maybe the storyline is exaggerating the matchup, though.
Oct. 24 at New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils should be better this season, but that seems to be the narrative every season. Early games are too difficult to gauge how well a younger team will ultimately perform the rest of the way, even after a strong start. However, the main storyline isn’t the division rivalry, but rather the possibility Washington will face its other ex-starting goaltender, Vitek Vanecek. The Capitals traded away the young netminder to New Jersey on July 8, in a move – eventually paired with parting ways with Samsonov – that subsequently allowed the team to pursue and land prized free agent Darcy Kuemper.
Nov. 3 at Detroit Red Wings
Anthony Mantha and Jakub Vrana will forever be linked after the 2021 Trade Deadline deal that sent each into new sweaters. Though that transaction happened over a year ago, the two actually haven’t played against each other yet. The only matchup Mantha played against Detroit was on Oct. 27, 2021, a game in which Vrana did not skate in.
Vrana, on the other hand, has never played against Washington. The reason being is that last season both he and Mantha had shoulder surgeries that required lengthy recoveries. In 2022-23, both forwards will be vital to their respective team’s success, especially considering the Red Wings have made a plethora of moves in free agency to indicate they are ready to make the playoffs – another potential wild card battle for the Capitals to try and fend off.
Nov. 9 vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Not much else to say here.
Nov. 15 at Florida Panthers
Last season, the Capitals gave the Florida Panthers a hard-fought first-round playoff battle. At this level, moral victories don’t get you far, though. Florida ousted Washington in six games and, though the injury to Tom Wilson created a what-could-have-been scenario, it was pretty expected.
The Capitals weren’t actually bad against the top teams in the NHL last season, but they would have had trouble beating any of them four times out of seven in a postseason series.
Nov. 19 vs. Colorado Avalanche
This is perhaps the main early-season matchup for fans to circle. Not only are the Capitals welcoming the defending Stanley Cup champions to Capital One Arena, but Kuemper will also likely be trying to stop an onslaught of shots from his former teammates.
If the team wants to know what they got for that $26.25 million contract, there is no better squad to either showcase a goalie’s talents or quickly expose their flaws than the Avalanche, as they averaged the fourth-most goals (308), goals per game (3.76), and shots per game (35) in the NHL last season.
On a fun note, Washington was the only team that Colorado did not earn a point against in 2021-22. Given it was only two games, the first without Nathan MacKinnon playing, it’s still something no other team can claim.
Dec 9 vs. Seattle Kraken
If any Capitals supporters were wondering, Seattle is where Justin Schultz signed. Though the teams meet in Seattle on Dec. 1, the defenseman will be welcomed back to D.C. in this matchup to what is assumed to be a nice ovation. On a side note, former Capitals Andre Burakovsky and Philip Grubauer are also on the Kraken’s roster.
Dec. 13 at Chicago Blackhawks
Another key signing for Washington during free agency was that of Dylan Strome. The Capitals were in need of a forward who could potentially impact the game while, most importantly, producing in the absence of Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom.
In his four seasons with Chicago, the 25-year-old forward totaled 60 goals and 94 assists in 225 games played. Perhaps he will have extra motivation in this matchup against the team that didn’t provide him with a qualifying offer. In addition, the Capitals signed two other Blackhawks, Erik Gustafsson and Henrik Borgstrom, during the summer.
Other Schedule Notes
Wrapping up the other division rivalries, the Capitals play their first game of the season against the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 31, Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 23, the New York Rangers on Dec. 27, Columbus Blue Jackets on Jan. 5, 2023, and the New York Islanders (finally) on Jan. 16, 2023.
The Capitals seem to have much longer stretches on the road than at home. The longest homestand is four games from Nov. 5-11. The team’s longest road stretch is six games from Nov. 26-Dec. 7, but they also have two four-game road trips toward the beginning and end of the season.
The most difficult stretch of the season will seemingly be from Jan. 11-Feb. 11. Washington plays eight of 11 games in that span on the road, including visits to the Vegas Golden Knights, Avalanche, Maple Leafs, Blue Jackets, and Boston Bruins. The good news is, that the Capitals had the best road record in the league last season at 25-10-6.
The final month of the season may be favorable. From March 14-April 13, the Capitals play seven of their last 15 games against teams that didn’t make the playoffs in 2021-22.
Too-Early 2022-23 Season Outlook
There are a lot of variables to consider going into 2022-23. The roster looks very different already, and both the red and blue lines need to rely on the system’s youth for depth.
No matter how the schedule looks the first couple of months of the season, Washington is going to have a tough start without Wilson and Backstrom. Their success will depend on how quickly Kuemper settles in the crease and how much Strome can produce while in a top-six slot.
The team doesn’t want to fall too far behind too early because the Eastern Conference looks solid again, and other teams like Columbus and Detroit will surely be in wild card contention by season’s end.
With an uncertain start looming and a couple of hard road stretches during the regular season, it’s possible the Capitals miss the playoffs in 2023. That doesn’t mean that they will be at the bottom of the Metro or the Conference, but it does mean that a wild card slot will be more difficult to obtain. Don’t be surprised if they are a lower seed again, or have an off-year the fanbase isn’t very accustomed to.
Patience is key during this transition. They will be back soon, and if it’s not this season, at least there will be some fun games for fans to circle on the calendar.