Welcome to Capitals Weekly! In this weekly column, I will take a look at the Washington Capitals’ upcoming games and highlight any potential storylines or matchups to watch, all while giving my predictions on how the Caps will do in that span. As always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section down below.
It is hard to believe that it has been 143 days since the Washington Capitals last played a game. Since bowing out in the first round of the playoffs at the hands of the Boston Bruins last season, the Capitals remained silent in the offseason instead of improving upon a team that has not won a playoff series in the last three years.
Granted, the Capitals were up against the salary cap and were able to keep T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Alexander Ovechkin on the roster for the foreseeable future. After going 2-3-1 in six preseason games, Washington will be looking to get the 2021-22 NHL season off to a hot start as it attempts to navigate what may arguably be the best division in the league. Here’s a look ahead at what the opening week of the season has in store for the Washington Capitals:
Home Cooking at Capital One Arena
Washington was gifted three home games by the NHL scheduling department to kick off the 2021-22 season. Although the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche will be the Caps’ second and third games of the week, respectively, it is still early in the season and, as the Penguins showed on opening night, it might be better to face both teams this early in the year.
Fresh off its Presidents’ Trophy-winning season, Colorado is still breaking in a new goaltender and is missing star center Nathan MacKinnon due to a positive COVID-19 test. Since the division alignments and addition of the Seattle Kraken have altered the schedule so that Eastern Conference and Western Conference teams only face each other in a home-and-away series this season, it might be a blessing in disguise for the Capitals to host the Avs this early in the 2021-22 campaign.
Home Opener – New York Rangers Redemption Night?
I had planned to lead off with this section until Ryan Reaves went down with a freak injury, and now that it appears he is healthy and back in the lineup, it still begs to be discussed. New York spent the offseason adding size and toughness, in what seems to be in response to the Artemi Panarin-Tom Wilson incident last season, and hockey fans had this date circled as soon as the NHL released the season schedule. However, Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant is stressing they didn’t make these moves only to go after Wilson, no matter how much the evidence says differently.
While I don’t believe that this will be an ugly game that gets out of hand, I do think we will see at least one fight involving Wilson. Will it be the Reaves-Wilson showdown everyone is hoping for? Could be, if they decide to settle the score early, but I don’t see Wilson dropping the gloves with some kid named Dryden Hunt.
Will Ovechkin Play in Season Opener
As of publication, there is still a doubt as to whether Ovechkin will suit up for the Caps season opener. Ovechkin participated in the team’s optional practice on Tuesday and coach Peter Laviolette hinted that he could be ready to go by game time. Although Ovechkin will likely play if he feels he is healthy enough to do so, it might be in the Capitals’ best interest to keep him out of the lineup, especially if the Rangers are looking to “settle a score.”
Overall, I predict that the Capitals will begin the first week of the season 2-0-1, with a regulation win over the Rangers and back-to-back overtime games with the Lightning and Avalanche.
Agree or disagree with my weekly predictions? Leave your comments and own projections in the comments below!
Born and raised in Michigan, Kyle Knopp started playing hockey when he was 3 years old. Knopp has played, coached, or worked at every level of ice hockey — including three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League and two seasons with the Detroit Red Wings where he was part of the Stanley Cup Championship team in 2008. He covers the Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings for The Hockey Writers and is the editor of THW’s Morning Skate newsletter. You can follow him on Twitter @THW_Knopp.