Game Preview: Capitals @ Penguins


It’s that time of year again! Hockey returns Wednesday night, with the Capitals kicking things off on Thursday night. The Caps will open the season in Pittsburgh to take on the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins. 

The Penguins road to the Stanley Cup went through Washington, where they ousted the Caps in six games, ending any hope Caps fans had for a Stanley Cup in DC for 2016. It was a bitter and disappointing end for a team that finished with the best record in the regular season.

SALT IN THE WOUND?
In late June, the NHL announced that the Caps would kick-off their 2016-2017 cup campaign by watching the Penguins raise their championship banner to the rafters. While many Caps fans groaned, head coach Barry Trotz embraced the opportunity.  “I hope they raise the banner right in front of us so that we can see it. Hopefully next year we can do the same thing to them and raise a banner in front of them,” said Trotz. The rosters for the opening game:

caps-pens-lineups

ZACH ATTACK
After the final preseason game on Sunday night, Trotz told rookie Zach Sanford to step inside his office. Usually when you hear those words from your boss you think that you’re in trouble and about to get fired (or cut, if we’re talking in sports terms). That office visit was not one of those instances. Sanford impressed the coaches this preseason, earning him a spot in the lineup on opening night. The Boston College product is excited for the opportunity.

“I tried to play it cool. I said ‘awesome thanks’ but I was freaking out on the inside,” Sanford told reporters at practice today. “I try not to get nervous but I think when it comes down to game time, when you walk onto the rink, I think it’ll hit me a little bit.”  You can read our interview with Sanford here.

Sanford’s mom will be making the trip to watch her son play. In practice today, Sanford was paired with Justin Williams and Lars Eller on the third line. Eller will be making his Caps debut after he was acquired this summer via free agency. The third line was an issue in their playoff loss to Pittsburgh. If this third line can gell, it could be helpful come playoff time.

WOUNDED BIRDS
The Penguins will be missing both Sidney Crosby and Matt Murray. Crosby suffered a concussion at practice on Friday. Murray was injured during the World Cup of Hockey while playing for Team North America.

WINDOWS
This is year two of the “two year window” that General Manager Brian MacLellan came up with, in reference to the numerous players with only one year left on their contracts. There may be a lot of pressure for some of the players on the team, but not for Alex Ovechkin, as we learned during the captain’s sit-down interview with Jill Sorenson of CSN.

This will be the second time in franchise history the Capitals open the season on the road against the defending Stanley Cup champions. The previous time was in 2013 when the Caps opened their campaign against the Blackhawks, where they raised a banner of their own. While the pregame ceremony may be long and the Caps players might not be out there on the ice, Trotz said he’ll have the guys watch in their own way. The projected starting lines for the Capitals:

washington-capitals-at-pittsburgh-penguis-10-13-16

“There’s no way I’m gonna have the guys sit out there for 30 minutes,” said Trotz. “But we want to recognize what they’re doing. I talked to the captains and we’ll do it in our own way and be ready to go. We don’t want to be disrespectful so we’re going to keep internally what we’re gonna do.”

If the Capitals needed any additional motivation, now they got it. Losing in the playoffs to your biggest rival and watching them raise their banner in front of you to open a new campaign is plenty of motivation for those who need it.

It should be an interesting night and an interesting season ahead. Buckle up Caps fans! Hockey is back.

Other links
Zach Sanford Wraps Up Strong Preseason Audition For Capitals (CSN)
You’ve read this Capitals column before. No, literally. (DC Sports Bog- Washington Post)
Entering a contract year, Karl Alzner is focused on staying consistent (Washington Post)
Washington Capitals Venn Depth Charts 2016-17: Our unique look at the Washington Capitals depth chart (Japers’ Rink)

By Michael Marzzacco

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