Photo: Las Vegas Review-Journal
The Washington Capitals host the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday night in the first meeting between the two teams since the Capitals beat the Golden Knight in five games in the Stanley Cup Final last June. The Golden Knights won both regular-season meetings last year, winning 3-0 at T-Mobile Arena on December 23 and 4-3 in the District on February 4. The game will be televised on NBC Sports Network starting at 8 PM.
Vegas Golden Knights
After a magical inaugural season, which saw the Knights lead the Pacific Division with 51 wins and 109 points, and breezing through the Los Angeles Kings in four games, the San Jose Sharks in six, and the Winnipeg Jets in five in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Golden Knights said goodbye to forwards James Neal, who had 25 goals, and David Perron, who led the team with 50 assists, last year for Vegas.
However, they may have gotten even better with the additions of center Paul Stastny, who recorded 37 assists and 53 points with the Jets and St. Louis Blues and nine assists and 15 points in 17 playoff games with Winnipeg last season, and forward Max Pacioretty, a five-time 30-goal scorer with the Montreal Canadiens.
The Golden Knights are in the midst of a five-game road swing. They opened it up with their first win (2-1 shootout) of their sophomore year against the Minnesota Wild, though they fell to the Buffalo Sabres by a score of 4-1 on Monday afternoon. After clashing with the Capitals in Washington, the Golden Knights visit the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night and the Philadelphia Flyers, who beat them 5-2 in their season opener last Thursday, on Saturday afternoon.
Center William Karlsson led the team with 43 goals and 78 points in 82 games last season after never recording more than nine goals or 25 points in four seasons with the Anaheim Ducks and Columbus Blue Jackets. He also led the NHL with a +49 rating last year. His linemate, forward Jonathan Marchessault, was right behind him with 27 goals and 75 points in only 78 games. Marchessault was behind Karlsson for the second-best +/- in the NHL last season (+36).
Defenseman Nate Schmidt, the Golden Knights’ selection from the Capitals in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft, was suspended for 20 games by the NHL last month for abusing the league’s substances program and is not eligible to play until November 18. Schmidt, 27, led Vegas in ice time last season (22:36).
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury will start against the Capitals. He went 29-13-4 with a .927 save percentage and a 2.24 goals-against average last season and was spectacular in the playoffs, going 12-3 with a .947 save percentage and a 1.68 goals-against average through three rounds. He was playing so well that there was discussion that he would win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, even if the Capitals won the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately for him, his play dropped off in the Stanley Cup Final, when he recorded a save percentage of .853 and a goals-against average of 4.09 in the Final against Washington. Lifetime against the Caps in the regular season, Fleury is 22-12-2 with a .914 save percentage and a 2.54 goals-against average.
The Capitals will play their first game in a span of six days on Wednesday against Vegas. They opened the season with a 7-0 win on opening night against the Boston Bruins last Wednesday, before falling 7-6 in overtime to the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena the next night.
Capitals’ forward Dmitrij Jaskin is expected to make his team debut after Washington claimed him off of waivers from the St. Louis Blues last week. Jaskin, 25, tallied six goals and 17 points in 76 games last season and has recorded 25 goals and 61 points in 266 career NHL games, all with the Blues. Forward Nathan Walker will come out of the lineup, so Jaskin will skate in his place between center Nic Dowd and forward Devante Smith-Pelly on the fourth line.
Defenseman Michal Kempny will make his season debut on Wednesday night after missing four games due to an upper-body injury suffered from a hit by Blues’ defenseman Robert Bortuzzo in the Capitals’ game against the Blues on September 25 at Enterprise Center. Kempny left the game and did not return. He has fully participated in the team’s practice the past couple of days. Kempny, who the Capitals’ acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks at the trade deadline last season, tallied two goals, three assists in 24 games with the Capitals during the regular season. He was a +1 during the regular season with the Capitals. Kempny recorded three goals and 10 points along with a +14 rating in 53 games with the Capitals and Blackhawks in 2017-18. In 24 playoff games, he tallied two goals and five points. Kempny was also a +1 during the playoffs.
The Capitals lead the NHL with an average of 6.5 goals per game, is tied for first in the NHL with a 50% power play efficiency with the New Jersey Devils, and is fourth in the NHL with an average of 36.5 shots per game. While the team will not likely sustain the numbers all season long, it is important to keep an eye on a red-hot Capitals offense heading into this game. Only three players (forward Andre Burakovsky, defenseman Dmitry Orlov, and defenseman Madison Bowey) have yet to record a point for Washington this season. Forward T.J. Oshie leads the team with two goals and five points and is tied for second in the NHL with an average of 2.5 points per game.
Braden Holtby will likely start for the Capitals. Holtby, 29, has a save percentage of .894 and a goals-against average of 3.47 through two games this season. In last year’s Stanley Cup Final series against Vegas, Holtby recorded a save percentage of .916 and a goals-against average of 2.62. He allowed three goals on 28 shots in his lone start against the Golden Knights during the regular season last year.
-Smith-Pelly scored three goals in the final three games (one game-tying goal, one game-winning goal) of the Final vs. Vegas; he and forward Alex Ovechkin led the team with three goals each in the Stanley Cup Final
-Center Evgeny Kuznetsov led the Capitals with seven assists and eight points in the Stanley Cup Final
-Capitals’ defenseman Matt Niskanen is one point shy of 300 in his career
A Look Back In Time
Up 2-1 in the series entering Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, the Capitals overcame a fast start by the Golden Knights and put up three goals in the first period. Defenseman John Carlson struck on the power play in the second period to make it 4-0. Vegas made it interesting in the third with two quick goals to cut the lead in half but the Capitals would respond with goals from Kempny and forward Brett Connolly and win 6-2. The win drew the Capitals one win away from the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.
By Harrison Brown