It would not have been surprising if the Capitals had come out flat in Wednesday’s season opener against the Boston Bruins.
After a summer of celebrating a Stanley Cup win, getting their Stanley Cup rings earlier in the week and then watching as the Stanley Cup banner was raised to the rafters of Capital One Arena, it would have been completely understandable if the minds of the players were elsewhere by the time the puck dropped.
Todd Reirden, however, was having none of it.
In the last 10 years, only two defending champions won in their openers. Reirden was determined to make sure his players were focused for the start of the game regardless of what emotions they may have felt during the pregame ceremony.
“It definitely was a concern so it was something I addressed on more than one occasion and was quite firm on [it] actually before the game with the guys,” Reirden said.
Wednesday’s game felt very much secondary to the pregame festivities, the final chapter of the Capitals’ triumphant celebration. But for a team in which everyone expected some sort of a letdown, there was none on Wednesday.
“Obviously a little worried about how you going to start off the game after a ceremony like that, but I think everyone looked [at] it the right way,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “We looked at it as a pump up thing for us so we came off flying right away.”
T.J. Oshie scored just 24 seconds into the game and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored soon after as the Caps took a 2-0 lead less than two minutes into the new season. The Caps would never look back on what would become a 7-0 romp over a Bruins team with Stanley Cup aspirations of its own.
“We talked about enjoying the special moment, but making sure that we're ready to go at the start,” Devante Smith-Pelly said. “It's safe to say we were ready to go.”
So concerned was Reirden with how his team would start Wednesday, that he issued a challenge to the team’s leaders.
“I challenged the leadership group about how they were going to respond and how they were going to set the tone for our team tonight and I said somebody's going to do it, who's it going to be in here?” Reirden said. “Not surprised to see our leadership step up like they did and throughout the first five minutes of the game, they sent a strong message. I was really proud of them.”
Clearly, the message sank in.
Braden Holtby turned aside 25 shots in a shutout, Backstrom tallied three helpers including his 800th career point, Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson, and T.J. Oshie all scored a goal and an assist and Evgeny Kuznetsov scored twice as the team’s big name players delivered.
Wednesday was going to be a special night in Washington regardless of what happened in the game. A phenomenal start to the title defense just made it all the more so for the Caps’ faithful.
“I always believe that the way you start, the way you going to play the rest of the season,” Kuznetsov said. “This was very important game for us and I like how we play defensively, I like how we track the puck. Just overall, we execute everything we have to.”
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