Oct. 11 vs. Pittsburgh Penguins at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7
Pittsburgh Penguins 1-1-1
Washington Capitals 2-0-1
Three Atlantic Division teams supplied the opposition for the Capitals’ first three games this season, and Washington fared well over that brief stretch, at least results-wise. After taking five of six possible points in those first three games, the Caps now embark upon a three-game run (over four nights) against fellow Metropolitan Division denizens.
First up are the Pittsburgh Penguins, who will pay the first of their two visits to Capital One Arena this season on Wednesday night. This weekend, the Caps head up I-95 for back-to-back road games against the New Jersey Devils on Friday and the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday. That road run will conclude a season-opening stretch in which the Caps play six games in 10 nights.
After winning their first two games of the season, the Caps suffered the lone blemish on their record Monday night in Tampa, a 4-3 overtime loss at the hands of the Lightning. Washington led that game 3-1 late in the second, but couldn’t supply a counterpunch as the Bolts put on strong surge in the third, scoring three unanswered goals to win it.
Philipp Grubauer’s goaltending (36 saves on 40 shots) earned the Caps a point in a game where they could easily have had none. During a third-period Lightning power play while the Caps still owned a 3-2 edge, Grubauer faced 11 shot attempts in two minutes – including seven on goal – and managed to preserve the lead.
“We were kind all in scrambling mode there,” says Grubauer. “They were passing it around and shooting. We’ve got to make sure we stop it, and get it down [the ice] or get a whistle there, but they didn’t score so a pretty good job from the penalty kill all around.”
Special teams have been good for the Caps in the early going. They’ve netted three power-play goals on nine tries, and the Lightning power-play strike that beat them in overtime on Monday was the first they’ve permitted in 14 shorthanded missions this season.
Washington enjoyed a day off on Tuesday after returning from central Florida in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. At Wednesday’s morning skate, they’ll turn their attention to the Penguins.
“Morning skate, we’ll probably do something in the morning skate to work on some things,” said Caps coach Barry Trotz after the loss in Tampa. “I thought we were well prepared [for the Lightning] coming into the game, and it showed real early. Then when we got a little fatigued; especially our back end got fatigued.”
Washington has been riding its top four defensemen hard in the early going, particularly in the two close games it has played. It’s an extremely small sample size that includes a pair of overtime games and a fair amount of penalty killing, but John Carlson (25:42) and Dmitry Orlov (25:11) are averaging better than 25 minutes a night while Niskanen is at 23:44 and Orpik at 22:21.
Carlson’s figure is three minutes about his average from last season, and Orlov’s is more than five minutes greater. Orpik’s average on the young season is his highest of any campaign since 2011-12 (22:33) when he was with the Penguins.
Third pair defensemen Taylor Chorney (13:32) and Aaron Ness (11:30) are considerably lower in that regard, making for a top heavy workload the likes of which the Caps haven’t had in several seasons. But again, it’s early.
“I don’t know what the minutes are,” said Trotz. “I haven’t seen the sheets yet, but a guy like [Matt Niskanen] is probably hovering around the high twenties tonight, and Brooks [Orpik] and those guys [as well]. There was a lot demanded of them tonight. We’ll just have to regroup and get ready for the Penguins.”
Pittsburgh opened up its 2017-18 season with a pair of losses, a 5-4 overtime loss to St. Louis in the Pens’ home opener a week ago. A 10-1 demolishing at the hands of the Blackhawks in Chicago followed a night later, and the Penguins got in the win column with a 4-0 home whitewashing of the Nashville Predators on Saturday.
No NHL team has won three straight Stanley Cup titles in the last three-plus decades, but the Pens are coming off consecutive crowns, and they should once again be a formidable contender in ’17-18.
Pittsburgh lost a fair amount of key players from last season’s Cup champs, including veteran netmidner Marc-Andre Fleury, defensemen Trevor Daley and Ron Hainsey and centers Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen. To mitigate those losses, the Pens added goaltender Antti Niemi, blueliner Matt Hunwick, and forward Ryan Reaves over the summer.