Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images
As the NHL draws closer to July 1st and the official start of the 2016-17 NHL season, the topography of the new campaign for the Capitals and the 29 other teams became clearer as the NHL released the schedule for the upcoming season.
Here are a few takeaways:
1) Hard Opening – In an excruciating twist of fate (or perhaps not), the Capitals will open the season on the road against their arch-rival the 2015-16 Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. As if taking the ice against those who extinguished their own Stanley Cup aspirations right off the bat wasn’t painful enough, Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals will have to watch in agony, shuffling their feet to keep the muscles loose or as a means of distraction, as a much-loathed adversary raises a banner that will read “Stanley Cup Champions” to their rafters where it will hang permanently, a reminder of what might have been for a Capitals team that had so much promise. On the bright side, there will be plenty of motivation to start the season with a bang.
2) Manageable Road Trips (Until Spring) – As befits an Eastern Conference team, the Caps schedule doesn’t have much in the way of excruciating road trips. The longest stretch away from home, however, will be at season’s end when they embark on a five-game road trip between Mar. 28th and Apr. 4th. Aside from a four-game road trip across Western Canada in late-October into early November, the Caps don’t have any glaringly long absences away from the comforts of Verizon Center.
3) Thankful To Be Home – The Caps will enjoy their season-long five-game homestand from Nov. 16th through Nov. 25th, giving Caps fans every chance to spend part of their Thanksgiving holiday season taking in a game or two at Verizon Center.
4) The California Gauntlet – Perhaps the most excruciating, shorter road trip of the season will be in mid-March when the Capitals will play three games in four days against the vaunted California trio of San Jose, Los Angeles, and Anaheim.
5) Beware The Ides Of March – Building off the previous two points, the month of March looks like the most grueling stretch of the season. The aforementioned road trips constitute a difficult month in which they will play 15 games, tied with January for the month with the most games to play.
6) A Backup’s Bonanza – The Caps have 12 back-to-back games in 2016-17 which should ensure plenty of work for backup goaltender Phillip Grubauer. While there’s no question that Vezina Trophy-finalist Braden Holtby is in line to receive the lion’s share of the starts, the 24-year-old Grubauer should have plenty of opportunities to demonstrate his value and give Holtby as much rest as he needs down the stretch.
7) Afternoon Delight – The Caps have 11 afternoon or early-evening games (starting prior to the standard 7 p.m. start time when on the east coast), including a Super Bowl Sunday matinee against the Los Angeles Kings. There will be plenty of chances for Caps fans to make a day out of watching their favorite team.
By Keith Leonard