Capitals Face Some Preseason Tests

The 2019 preseason starts this week for the Washington Capitals. To make things easier for everyone, we have compiled the important information for the upcoming dates and opponents.

Preseason Is Important Too

While preseason often gets overlooked by fans foaming at the mouth for regular season, unofficial play often sets precedent for what to expect in the coming months. What we will see from the veterans and rookies from Washington will indicate how the team spent time away from the rink. The Capitals will partake in the Rookie Tournament from Sept. 5-10. The hosts are the Nashville Predators in Tennessee. Last year’s event took place in Estero, Florida with prospects from the Predators and Florida Panthers joining the rookies in red.

The entire team will then reunite at MedStar Capitals Iceplex on Sept. 12 to commence training camp, which runs until Sept. 16 when the Capitals face the Chicago Blackhawks for the first preseason game at Capital One Arena. For those actually wondering: players lace up their skates for their first on-ice training session on Sept. 13. For anyone who would like to know, the full list of games is located on the Capitals’ website.

Chicago Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin
Chicago Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger (16) battles for the puck against Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8), during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

The first on-ice test comes from Chicago. After they allowed 291 goals last season, only beaten by the Ottawa Senators with 301, the Blackhawks knew they needed a change of direction. The Blackhawks beefed up their roster with veterans, plugging holes throughout each line. The new roster even features a blast from the past in Andrew Shaw, who won the Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2013 and 2015. His net-front presence, pairing nicely with newly-acquired center Ryan Carpenter, will provide cover to one of the biggest pick-ups in the offseason: Robin Lehner. The fan favorite racked up a 2.13 goals-against average (GAA), .930 save percentage (SV%) and six shutouts with a 25-13-5 record.

Personally, we would have loved to witness Lehner bringing home the Vezina Trophy last season.

He joins another former-Islanders product, defenseman Calvin de Haan. Although the two have not worked together in the past, Lehner and de Haan might be able to generate some magic for Blackhawks staples Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. It can’t be worse than finishing six points out of the second wild-card spot, correct?

Back at It with the Blues

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get on to the more important stuff. The first regular-season game for Ovechkin and crew begins on Oct. 2 where the last two Cup champions clash in St. Louis Blues territory. After the Capitals witness the banner raising for the other team, another hockey season will officially begin. This is the third time in four seasons that the Capitals bear witness to a banner raising on night one.

St. Louis Blues Stanley Cup
St. Louis Blues pose for a photo with the Stanley Cup on the ice after the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on June 12, 2019, in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

After the event concludes, all that is left on the ice is talent. In a battle between two behemoths, small mistakes and incremental improvements will be the deciding factors. The Capitals might have an advantage as they square off with familiar faces. The Blues enter this season with a roster nearly identical to the roster with which they exited last season. Unlike the Blackhawks, who are relying on experience to elevate play, the Blues are relying on chemistry to drive competition within its roster.

The team locked down several restricted and unrestricted free agents: Sammy Blais, Robby Fabbri, Oskar Sundqvist, Joel Edmundson and Carl Gunnarsson. Probably the most important contract was signed by goalie Jordan Binnington, who went 24-5-1 with a .927 SV% and a 1.89 GAA during the span that saw the Blues vault from last place to playoff contenders.

We think the rivalry ignited when the Capitals stole T.J. Oshie from the Blues after he then tried to steal fans from his original team. How far we have come. Both teams grabbed Cup titles. Now Washington will try to steal game one on enemy ice.

New York State of Mind

The Capitals then make the trek up to New York to take on the Islanders on Oct. 4 for the home team’s season opener. To clear up any confusion, that game will be played at NYCB LIVE, home of Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. That is not Brooklyn. During the 2019-20 regular season, the New York Islanders will play 20 home games at Barclays Center in Brooklyn and 21 home games at NYCB LIVE on Long Island. We repeat: this game will not be played in Brooklyn.

Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov (92) shakes hands with New York Islanders center Ryan Strome (18) as Capitals goalie Braden Holtby (70) shakes hands with Islanders left wing Josh Bailey (12). (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

However, the game will be a testament to each team’s offseason acquisitions and preparation. Names to note are Islanders newcomers Michael Dal Colle, 23, Joshua Ho-Sang, 23, Kieffer Bellows, 21, and Oliver Wahlstrom, 19. Established names are center Mathew Barzal, right winger Jordan Eberle, and the newly-inked captain Anders Lee. Ironically for the Islanders, the biggest question mark appears to be goalie Semyon Varlamov. Capitals fans know the name, and they know it well. The goalie, who spent the past eight seasons with the Colorado Avalanche, recorded a 2.87 GAA and a .909 SV% through 2018-19. Only time will tell how the Russian goaltender performs for the Islanders. Varlamov has four years to answer questions and concerns. No matter where the Capitals play, the battle on the road will be tough.

Please Beat the Jerks

The Capitals come home for their season opener on Oct. 5 to face the “Jerks” – otherwise known as the Carolina Hurricanes. They themselves have adopted the moniker so we are simply giving them what they want. Yes, the Capitals face the jerks who defeated them in the first round of the playoffs last season.

Ovechkin Svechnikov fight
Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin fights Carolina Hurricanes right wing Andrei Svechnikov (James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

Justifiably, there is a lot of anticipation surrounding this matchup. The double overtimeloss in Game 7 still stings – much like the knockout unloaded on Andrei Svechnikov by Ovechkin in Game 3. The Hurricanes, having tasted playoff success, are hungry to prove themselves again. They have several standouts who could accomplish that mission. Erik Haula, a pickup from the Vegas Golden Knights, joins the cast, provides strong support to centermen Sebastian Aho and Jordan Staal.

Also upfront, Ryan Dzingel, an addition from the Ottawa Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets, buttresses the attack. In the back, the seasoned Jaccob Slavin and reliable Justin Faulk continue to deliver consistent play. The only shakeup could happen in the crease with veteran James Reimer, rookie Anton Forsberg and newcomer Alex Nedeljkovic vying for backup positioning behind superstar Petr Mrazek. Together, this team could pose a problem for the Capitals.

But nothing is insurmountable. If Washington starts strong against four formidable teams, that could indicate the necessary resiliency needed for a deep run in the upcoming season.

Just Sign Backstrom Already

There is only one puzzle piece missing: Nicklas Backstrom. His 10-year, $67-million contract is about to expire. Just sign him already. The Swede is often overshadowed by the “Russian Machine,” Ovechkin, but his career is almost as storied as his linemate’s career. The center, recently ranked 18th by the NHL Network, has posted 70 points or more in six consecutive seasons. Backstrom holds franchise-high numbers in assists (642) and plus/minus (plus-120). His 873 points sit second behind Ovechkin within the Capitals ranks. He owns fourth place in goals (231), even-strength goals (157), power-play goals (72), game-winning goals (38) and shots (1902). He has the ability to ascend the ranks with more playing time. We hope that time is spent with the Capitals.

To anyone listening: please just sign Backstrom already.