For the first 11 seasons of the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets’ existence, the team was a co-occupant of the Southeast Division along with the Capitals. But as should be the case, geography finally won out and the Jets are now where they belong, in the Western Conference’s Central Division.
The two former Southeast denizens will meet up once more on Saturday night at Yardmen Arena in Belleville, Ont. for the Kraft Hockeyville preseason game. The Caps-Jets game will be telecast live on “Hockey Night in Canada” and will be available for viewing live on the NHL Network. We’ll also be streaming live audio from the game and you can hear it via the Caps’ Mobile App, washingtoncaps.com or FederalNewsRadio.com beginning at 7 p.m.
Last season, the Caps put on a late surge to surpass the Jets in the standings, overtaking Winnipeg to earn the final Southeast Division title. The Capitals clinched that crown with a 5-3 win over the Jets at Verizon Center on April 23 in the third-to-last game of the 2012-13 regular season. Washington won four of the five games between the two clubs last season, outscoring the Jets by a combined total of 20-6 in the process.
Washington’s 2013 training camp started just two days ago, and the team of players heading north of the border to take on the Jets has had two practices worth of work heading into Saturday night’s game against Winnipeg. It’s the first preseason game for both the Caps and the Jets and the first night of preseason hockey in the NHL in 2013.
“The first game is a little tough with only two days for some of the guys,” says Oates. “But the guys want to play games. They don’t want to just keep getting skated. So having some games in between is good.”
Among the Caps heading to Belleville for the club’s maiden preseason voyage are captain Alex Ovechkin and his linemates Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson. That trio was one of the hottest in the NHL for the final half of the 2012-13 regular season. Right wing Troy Brouwer, whose 19 goals were second most on the club last season, will also be suiting up on Saturday against Winnipeg.
Washington’s top defensive tandem of Karl Alzner and Mike Green will also be making the trip to Belleville.
In addition to the veterans, a handful of young players will be making their NHL preseason debuts for Washington on Saturday in Belleville. Defensemen Connor Carrick and Nate Schmidt and forwards Chandler Stephenson, Nathan Walker and Tom Wilson are expected to don the Caps’ sweater for the first time in exhibition play.
Wilson achieved the rare feat of appearing in a Stanley Cup playoff game before playing in his first NHL preseason contest. The 19-year-old native of Toronto skated in three games for the Caps during the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs. Wilson, Carrick and goaltender Philipp Grubauer are all familiar with Yardmen Arena as all have played in the Ontario Hockey League. Grubauer was a member of the Belleville Bulls for two seasons, appearing in 48 games from 2008-10.
Goaltender Braden Holtby is the other netminder on the trip for the Capitals. He is expected to start the contest with Grubauer coming on in relief somewhere near the midpoint.
Winnipeg is entering its 14th season in the NHL and it is seeking just its second Stanley Cup playoff berth.
Over the summer, the Jets added three forwards who are likely to have an impact in the upcoming 2013-14 season. Winnipeg added left wing Michael Frolik in a draft day deal with the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. Frolik is a two-time 20-goal scorer at the NHL level.
Days later, the Jets moved their second-round pick in the 2014 draft to Minnesota for right wing Devin Setoguchi, who has eclipsed the 20-goal plateau three ties during his NHL career. Setoguchi notched a career-high 31 goals with San Jose in 2008-09, his sophomore season in the circuit.
Winnipeg also signed free agent winger Matt Halischuk, formerly of the Nashville Predators. The 25-year-old Toronto native has 25 career NHL goals in 157 games in the league.
Earlier this week, the Jets brought in unrestricted free agent defenseman Ian White for a training camp look. White has played in 503 NHL games for five different teams. He is in camp on a professional tryout basis.
The Jets will be seeking to improve their special teams as camp wears on this fall. Winnipeg finished 24th in the league in penalty killing (79.7%) last season and the Jets wound up at the very bottom of the league’s ledger in power play prowess (13.8%) in 2012-13.