Wednesday Night Hockey: The Last Two Champs Face-off For the First Time.

Washington Capitals (0-0-0) v. St Louis Blues (0-0-0)

 

  Pre-Season Record Predicted Goaltender Stanley Cup Champions
Washington Capitals 5-1-0 Braden Holtby 2017-18
St. Louis Blues 4-3-0 Jordan Binnington 2018-19

It has been a long off-season for Caps’ fans, but we’re finally here. Does anyone else find it slightly more than coincidental that the two previous Stanley Cup Champions are facing off on the first day of the 2019-20 season? I know, I know, the schedule was made before the Blues won the cup, but raise your hand if you think that had something to do with the end result. The Capitals and Blues played each other twice during the preseason, splitting the games with one win a piece. Both teams won by just a single goal in each victory.

On Sunday, the Washington Capitals rounded out their six-game preseason schedule with a tight 4-3 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. While many fans are hesitant about making associations between preseason performances the regular season, there are a couple of things we know for certain. Tom Wilson is about to have a heck of a year. In just 3 preseason matches, Wilson tallied two goals and an assist, including one short-handed goal against the Chicago Blackhawks. While Top Line Tom led the team in short-handed goals last season (2G), it is vital to remember he only played 63 games during the 2019-19 season. Setting a career-high of 22 goals last year, we anticipate he should set another personal record with at least 25 goals this coming season (TheScore, Wilson). Caps’ captain Alex Ovechkin is prepared to win himself another Rocket Richard Trophy this year, and has expressed his desire, and ability to have another 50+ goal season (Gulitti). By a margin of 236 goals, Ovechkin only needs 5 more seasons of 50 goals, or 6 seasons of 40 goals to bypass the all-time goals leader of the Great Wayne Gretzky (894G). With the final year of his contract looming in not-so-distant future, the Capitals front office have already begun playing out some possible scenarios that will need to be played out in order to keep the Great 8 a Capital until retirement. But perhaps the biggest what-if many Caps’ fans are trying to answer involves defenseman Michal Kempny, whom had his season cut short last year due to a hamstring injury he suffered in a March 20th match against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Many, including head coach Todd Reirden, hoped Kempny would be ready in time to make the Opening Night roster for the Capitals, but that is still to be determined, as the blue-liner was still practicing in a non-contact jersey as of September 28th (Khurshudyan). In 71 games played with the Washington Capitals during the 2018-19 season,, Michal Kempny led the team with a +/- rating of 24, tallied 6 goals of his own, and racked up 19 assists, as a defenseman (TheScore, Kempny). However, a number of mid- and off-season acquisitions by the Capitals including Nick Jensen (DET) and Radko Gudas (PHI) and will bolster the Caps’ roster and hopefully this season will play out as well in reality, as it should on paper.

               The St. Louis Blues did not play their final scheduled preseason game due to a plane malfunction, but did beat the Caps’ on September 27 by a score of 4-3. For those not in the know, the St. Louis Blues won their first Stanley Cup Championship in team history this past June, similarly to the feat the Capitals accomplished in 2018. In true underdog fashion, the Blues went from worst, to first, in a matter of months. Was it the change in bench bosses? The puppy? The mid-practice brawls? Will the Blues fall victim to the infamous Stanley Cup Hangover? St. Louis elected to play eight preseason games (only played seven, see above), and managed to win 4 of 7, including one overtime win versus the Winnipeg Jets. Those 3 losses came resulted from a 2-3 loss to the Capitals, a 1-2 loss to the Dallas Stars, and an especially-embarrassing 4-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings. Fellow Russian Vladimir Tarasenko (a.k.a. Vladdy) is expected to have a bounce-back season after a seemingly lack-luster 2018-19 season, where he managed to score 33 goals in 76 regular season games (NHL.com). While Tarasenko led the Blues in goals, and points, he has seen a downward trend in goal-scoring since the 2015-16 season, where he scored a career-high 40 goals, and tallied 34 assists. During the 2018-19 playoffs, he scored 11 goals of the teams’ 75 total goals, good enough for second most on the team, but accounted for just 14.6% of total goals scored (NHL.com).

While the St. Louis Blues and their fans are, of course, hoping to repeat their recent success, the Washington Capitals are out for blood (redemption) after a disappointing first round exit. It seems as though Caps’ PR is keeping on with the #ALLCAPS catch-phrase for this upcoming season, but #2Cups3Years sounds pretty good too.

Coverage of the game begins at 6:00pm with Caps Faceoff Live, followed by Caps Pregame Live at 6:30pm, all on NBCSN/NBCSWA, with puck drop following the Blues’ Stanley Cup Banner Raising at Enterprise Arena in St. Louis, MO.

 

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Gulitti, T. (2019). Ovechkin talks 50-goal record, catching Gretzky, future with Capitals. https://www.nhl.com/news/alex-ovechkin-chases-wayne-gretzky-hopes-to-score-50-goals/c-308941324.

Khurshudyan, I. (2019). Michal Kempny doubtful for Capitals’ season opener at Blues because of hamstring injury. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2019/09/28/michal-kempny-doubtful-capitals-season-opener-blues-because-hamstring-injury/.

NHL.com. (2019). Vladimir Tarasenko. Retrieved from https://www.nhl.com/player/vladimir-tarasenko-8475765.

TheScore. (2019). Michal Kempny. Retrieved from https://www.thescore.com/nhl/players/5579.

TheScore. (2019). Tom Wilson. Retrieved from https://www.thescore.com/nhl/players/2592.

 

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