There is no better time of the year than the start of hockey season. It may have come three months late, but opening night finally came. The Washington Capitals would start this season with new faces, a new coach, a young goalie, and a few old guys.
There is a lot to expect from the Washington Capitals this season. Peter Laviolette is the clear answer to the mistakes of the past. Ex-Capital’s coach Todd Reirden never had any business as a head coach in the NHL, which is why he ended up in Pittsburgh.
Laviolette is a veteran in the league. With a Stanley cup under his belt, along with a couple of conference championships, Laviolette has 18 years of experience which will prove invaluable for this new Capitals team.
I’ve been a Caps fan since the days when they were so bad they wouldn’t have been competitive in the AHL. Of all the coaches they’ve had since the beginning of the Ovechkin era, only Barry Trotz was able to push them past their reoccurring postseason slump. The Washington Capitals have made it to the playoffs and done well in the regular seasons on talent alone, but with a stern and intelligent coach, they just might have the discipline they need to make it all the way.
A New Look
Like much of the NHL this season, things look a little bit different, and that is true for me as well. I’ve moved to the other side of the country, out of range of local Capitals coverage. No worries, I thought to myself. In the past, I’ve used “YouTube TV” to watch the games.
Except this time I ordered the service, they were not covering out-of-area hockey games.
I had to call them to remedy the situation.
They told me something along the lines of If you don’t live in the DC area, then you can’t get DC coverage.
“I’m a god damn professional journalist,” I told them. “I write for Belly Up Sports, and when they catch wind of this you’re finished!”
The service agent was not affected by my threats and cheerfully asked me what Belly Up Sports was.
“It’s the national geographic of the sports world!” I yelled. “Now if you can’t change my location, then I can’t do my job!”
I hung up on that conversation to the servicemen’s delight. He knew his boss would not change my location, and I knew it too, but I wanted to make a point. I called a few connections back in Washington and my location was changed, and the Caps were ending the first period 2-1.
The New Team
Opening day looks different for the Caps. There are no fans, advertisements are plastered on the helmets, and there was a giant walking around in a Washington uniform.
Turns out that giant was just Zdeno Chara, who sometimes looks more like Mr. Fantastic than a mortal human. He may have slowed down in his old age, but that doesn’t matter when you’re 6’9”. Chara no longer needs to skate. He just needs to wave his stick around and take a couple of strides now and again and by that time he’s covered most of the ice.
Alexander Ovechkin is glad to have Chara with him, and like Chara, he too is getting towards the later years of his career.
On this opening night, it would be TJ Oshie who stood out amongst the rest. Assisting on the first goal of the game from Nicklas Backstrom, Oshie scored the next goal in the first period, making it 2-1 for the Caps.
Oshie got another assist from a short neutral zone pass to John Carlson, who blew past the heavy-footed Sabres’ defensemen and scoring on the breakaway.
Capitals would later go on the powerplay, dominating with tic-tac passes but failing to capitalize off the opportunity.
Brendon Dillon, who had missed a breakaway chance earlier in the period, would score the next goal for the caps off a pass from Oshie, making it 4-1 Caps and giving Oshi his third point of the night.
Tobias Rieder would score for the Sabres with nearly a minute left in the second, leaving the score 4-2 after the second period.
The Sabres opened up the third period with a quick goal from Jake McCabe, but Jacob Vrana would answer his goal with a steal from Stahl in front of the Sabres’ net, keeping the Capitals lead at two goals.
Sabres’ Victor Olofsson would make it a one-point game near the end of the third, but Garnet Hathaway would seal the game for the Caps with a shot from his defensive zone into the Sabres’ open net, making the final score 6-4 for the Capitals first win and the first game of the season.
The best defense is not always a stronger offense. Braden Holtby—who will forever live in the hearts of all Caps fans—kept the Capitals alive in their Championship season, and played a major role in keeping them competitive last season.
Iyla Samsonov finished with 22 saves on 26 shots and a .846 save percentage.
This could be the difference-maker for the Capital’s season, but 2021 is still young, and he has plenty of time to develop into a high-caliber goaltender.
As long as the first line plays the way it did in this game, it would be hard to stop the Capitals this season. Ovechkin will dust off his quarantine legs and continue to score from his office, and John Carlson will prove once again that he is a Norris Trophy worthy defenseman.
It’s up to Laviolette to make it happen, but the Capitals will need to keep out of the penalty box and strengthen their defense to hoist the cup once again.