With less than one month before the launch of the new NHL season, let’s put the Washington Capitals’ early schedule under the microscope. Beyond the much-anticipated Sidney Crosby verses Alex Ovechkin games that everyone circles on their calendars, the start of the 2019-20 schedule has plenty of interesting matchups.
The Capitals’ launch to this season could arguably be the most intense start for the team in years, especially as it looks to get back to their Stanley Cup winning ways this season. Here is a look at some of the key matchups, quirks, challenges, and barometer games the Capitals will be faced with in October.
Another Stanley Cup Banner Night
If you’re a Capitals fan, the night the Stanley Cup banner was raised to the rafters at Capital One Center was a night you will never forget. For the second straight year, the team will be present for the celebration. However, this time as the visiting team.
The Capitals will be spectators as the champion St. Louis Blues celebrate their victory in front of what is sure to be a ramped-up crowd. It will be a great test for the team to see how their offseason acquisitions have acclimated to their new team and to gauge how their offseason training camps prepared them for the season.
With the Blues as their first opponent, one thing is certain, there will be no easing into the season for the players and game one will be an interesting and early measurement of the team.
Home-Opening Grudge Match
Three days after visiting St. Louis, the Capitals will have their own home opener against the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 5. The first game at home is reason enough for fans to be excited, but after losing a heart-breaking Game 7 in the opening round of the playoffs last year to the Hurricanes — squandering a two-game lead in the series — the Capitals will have revenge on their minds.
The Hurricanes have been in the news all summer for personnel moves. During the offseason, the Hurricanes traded away defenseman Calvin de Haan and added Anton Forsberg and Gustav Forsling. They also signed netminder James Reimer and forward Ryan Dzingel.
If that wasn’t enough, only days before camp began, Hurricanes captain, Justin Williams, announced that he was stepping away from the game for an undetermined amount of time. Not retiring, just taking some time with the potential of a mid-season return. Then, on Sept. 6, the Hurricanes announced they signed unrestricted free agent blueliner Jake Gardiner, to a four-year, $16.2-million contract.
So while the Capitals’ home-opening opponent might have some fresh faces, it is sure to be another intense contest to start the season. Oh, and did we mention that the game against the Hurricanes will be the second contest in a span of two nights for the Capitals? The night before the team visits division rivals, and the Barry Trotz-led, New York Islanders. A solid one-two punch from the NHL schedulers.
On the Road Again
If opening the season with three games in four nights against the Stanley Cup Champions and two division rivals wasn’t enough, the Capitals also face a daunting scheduling quirk in October.
Of the 14 games slated for October, the they will play nine of them on the road. How does that happen? After the Carolina game, the Capitals will host the Dallas Stars on Oct. 8 and then hit the road again for two games. The first against the Nashville Predators and then a return matchup with the Stars in Dallas. The middle of the month sees the Capitals play three home games in a row over five days beginning on Oct. 14 against the Colorado Avalanche, Toronto Maple Leafs and the New York Rangers.
To conclude October, the Capitals finish with a grueling five-game road trip. They begin with a flight to the Midwest against Chicago. The team will then take off for western Canada to play the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks. After that, the Caps get on another plane to travel back to the Eastern Time Zone for a clash in Ontario against the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have Stanley Cup aspirations of their own.
When all is said and done, the Capitals will have flown over 4,700 miles and played in three time zones all over the course of 10 days at the end of October. That is a challenging stretch of schedule that will test a team who has barely had a chance to breathe since that first puck dropped back in St. Louis.
If all of that doesn’t seem daunting enough for you, and you really do want to circle at least one Capitals-Pittsburgh Penguins game on your calendar, don’t miss the matinee tilt featuring the two teams slated for Feb. 2, which just also happens to be the same date as Super Bowl Sunday — how’s that for an appetizer before the Big Game?
Reporting on Hockey at the speed of write. I am a former U.S. Men’s National Ball Hockey Team player, current G.M. of the Women’s National Ball Hockey Program and Head Coach of the First Ladies Hockey Club based in Washington, D.C.