Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire
Coming off a season-opening 5-4 shootout win at the Senators on Thursday, Washington returns home on Saturday to host the Montreal Canadiens in their 2017-18 home opener. There are plenty of headlines going into this game, so let’s see what they are:
1. Marquee Goalie Matchup
This matchup features two of the best, if not, the two best goalies in the NHL right now. Braden Holtby came in second in the Vezina Trophy race last season after going 42-13-6. He also had a .925 save percentage and a 2.07 goals against average. He won the Vezina Trophy in 2015-16. Holtby had 28 saves on the 32 shots he faced in Ottawa on Thursday night. In his career against the Habs, Braden Holtby has gone 10-1-2 with a .941 save percentage and a 1.62 goals against average.
Behind him and Vezina Trophy Winner Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Carey Price came in third in the Vezina Trophy race last season going 37-20-5 with a 2.23 goals against average and a .923 save percentage. The 2015 Vezina Trophy and Hart Trophy winner signed an 8-year contract extension worth $84 million ($10.5 million AAV) with Montreal on July 2. He was eligible to become an unrestricted free agent July 1, 2018. He made 43 saves on 45 shots in Montreal’s 3-2 shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday.
— David (@davidb22307) October 7, 2017
2. Karl Alzner Returns to Washington
Defenseman Karl Alzner returns to Washington for the first time since signing a 5-year contract worth $22.5 million ($4.5 million AAV) on July 1. In 591 career games with the Capitals, Alzner had 19 goals and 99 points with a +61 rating. Drafted by the Capitals 5th overall in 2007, Alzner’s return to Washington in their home opener.
“I haven’t thought about that yet. It would be nice if it wasn’t the second game of the season. There’s a lot of things I need to be focused on like playing the right way. It’s hard not to focus on the stuff behind the scene. I hope when I come to the rink, it won’t feel as strange.,” Alzner told NBCSN Washington’s Tarik El-Bashir earlier today.
— Tarik El-Bashir (@TarikNBCS) October 6, 2017
Alzner played 599 consecutive games for the Capitals and won the Calder Cup with the Hershey Bears in 2010.
3. Nathan Walker Makes His NHL Debut
Capitals forward Nathan Walker will make his NHL debut on Saturday night, making him the first Australian born player to play in the NHL. Walker had a strong training camp scoring a goal in 3 games. He was a -1 but played pretty well in the preseason contests making him a favorite to land on the Capitals’ roster. Walker, a 2014 3rd round pick of the Capitals, scored 11 goals and 23 points in 58 games with the Hershey Bears last season and factoring in that he’s required to clear waivers to go back to Hershey, expect him to see lots of time in D.C. this year. Walker is known for getting under the opponent’s skin and his fisty play. He will likely play on the fourth line.
4. Washington’s defense looks to rebound from tough Thursday night
Despite the win, the Capitals’ defense had a very long night. Aaron Ness, who played on the third pair with Taylor Chorney, took two penalties on the night. John Carlson and Brooks Orpik were each a -3 on the night and have to be better than that. Matt Niskanen, who plays on the first pair with Dmitry Orlov, had three giveaways on the night. In addition to that, they gave up four goals on the night. The defense must improve because the Caps are not going to be able to score four or more goals per night. They also gave up 32 shots. The Capitals lost Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk to the New York Rangers via free agency, and Nate Schmidt who got selected in the Expansion Draft, which means that these young defensemen must improve or else there will be a lot of pressure on Braden Holtby and the offense this season. It is also questionable to be seen if Christian Djoos, who finished 3rd in the AHL defensemen with 58 points in 66 games last year with the Hershey Bears, will see time tomorrow.
5. More Second Line Production
Despite the fact that Washington scored four goals in their season opener on Wednesday, three of them came off the stick of Alex Ovechkin and the other from Brett Connolly, who played with Lars Eller and Alex Chiasson. The Capitals second line featuring Nicklas Backstrom, who led the Capitals with 86 points last season, T.J. Oshie, who tied the Capitals lead with 33 goals last season, and Andre Burakovsky. The line was relatively quiet with only 3 shots on goal and an even +/- rating on Thursday night, and that must change if the Capitals are going to keep up their level of offensive production. Backstrom is also one goal away from becoming the 8th all-time goal scorer in Capitals’ history.
By Harrison Brown