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Todd Reirden challenged his team Wednesday and clearly they responded

Todd Reirden challenged his team Wednesday and clearly they responded

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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T.J. Oshie puts on a memorable performance in 300th game as a Capital

T.J. Oshie puts on a memorable performance in 300th game as a Capital

300 games. 108 goals. 108 assists.

Just so you're tracking, those are T.J. Oshie's stats through 300 games as a member of the Washington Capitals.

In an outstanding 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers, Oshie scored two power play goals. It was the second time in his career that Oshie recorded two such goals.

Another shot on goal — he had four in the game — would have put him at a nice-and-even 620 during his tenure with the Capitals, but hey, we can't all be perfect.

The statistical-evenness is certainly satisfying, but even if you're not a fan of quirky stats, the man has logged 216 points in 300 games. That's pretty darn good.

T.J. Oshie will seek to continue putting up great numbers as the Capitals embark on a two-week road trip. Their first stop will be Sunday in Chicago for a showdown against the Blackhawks.

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A return six months in the making for defenseman Michal Kempny

A return six months in the making for defenseman Michal Kempny

It took six months of toil and effort for Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny to make it back to an NHL game. 

He last played March 20 when a torn hamstring in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning ended his season just a few weeks before the Stanley Cup playoffs began. That was brutal. 

A spring to heal after surgery, a summer to rehab the injury and weeks getting back in hockey shape were the steep price paid. And then it took him all of 15 minutes to score his first goal on Friday in a game against the New York Rangers. Welcome back, Michal. 

“I felt pretty good, actually. My legs felt good,” Kempny said. “Obviously not an easy situation for me. But I got to say just thank you to all of the staff, whole organization, my teammates, my family, my friends who were supporting me all the way through here and help me. It means a lot to me.”

It was an organizational project. Kempny meant so much to Washington during its Stanley Cup run of 2018. The Capitals felt his absence on the top pair with John Carlson during the first-round series loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. 

Washington coach Todd Reirden credited team trainers Jason Servis and Mike Booi and strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish with putting Kempny in position to return early in the season.  

“Six months of investment of their time to get him back,” Reirden said. “I thought Michal looked really good.”

The goal came at 15:16 of the first period and gave Washington a 2-1 lead. Kempny jumped onto a loose pucked batted around by teammate Alex Ovechkin, quickly corralled it and beat Henrik Lundqvist for the goal. It was a pretty play and another indication that Capitals' defensemen are taking chances when they see them on the offensive end. 

In his first game back, Kempny had 14:24 of ice time. That’s about the goal the Capitals had in mind for him. He started on the third pair with fellow Czech Radko Gudas, but also played 3:42 with Carlson, who mobbed Kempny after his goal and gave him a celebratory facewash with his glove. They’re happy to have him back. 

“I just grab the puck and there was open net, so a little lucky for me,” Kempny said. “I was just excited.”

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