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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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6 things to know for Caps-Canadiens: Man down for the Caps

6 things to know for Caps-Canadiens: Man down for the Caps

After a quick trip to Philadelphia, the Capitals (14-2-4) return home to host the Montreal Canadiens (10-5-3) for a Friday night matchup. You can catch all the action on NBC Sports Washington with Caps FaceOff Live kicking things off at 6 p.m. before Caps Pregame Live begins at 6:30 p.m. to bring you up to the 7 p.m. puck drop. Stick with NBC Sports Washington after the game for Caps Postgame Live, D.C. Sports Live and Caps Overtime Live.

Here are six things to know for Friday’s game.

Man down

Carl Hagelin took the ice in a non-contact jersey for Friday’s morning skate and will not play in the game. Nic Dowd did not participate and is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. He had a large gash in his hand late in the game against Philadelphia. That leaves the Caps with only 17 healthy skaters on the roster. A full lineup has 18 skaters.

Todd Reirden said the coaches would meet after the skate to determine who to call from Hershey. The fact that there is a discussion suggests that at the very least they are considering recalling someone other than Travis Boyd.

Here are the lines from Friday’s skate:

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Chandler Stephenson - Lars Eller - Richard Panik
Brendan Leipsic - ??? (Hagelin skated here) - Garnet Hathaway

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Radko Gudas
Jonas Siegenthaler - Nick Jensen

Samsonov starts, Holtby gets Saturday

With the Caps playing Friday and Saturday, the netminders will split the two games. Ilya Samsonov will play Friday against Montreal while Braden Holtby will get the start Saturday in Boston.

Samsonov was handed his first loss as a starter on Monday against the Arizona Coyotes and his second loss of the season. Friday will be his eighth appearance this season.

It will be a tough matchup as Samsonov will be going head-to-head against one of the top netminders in the world in Carey Price. Interestingly enough, both players have similar numbers this season as Samsonov enters this game with a .915 save percentage and 2.45 GAA as compared to Price’s .916 and 2.65, though Price is doubling up Samsonov in terms of games.

This could be a big night for the power play

The Caps are converting 22.9-percent on the power play, but it did not look good Wednesday in Philadelphia. Friday could provide the power play with a “get right” opportunity as Montreal ranks 28th on the PK at 73.7-percent. It has been better recently at 77.8-percent in their last five games, but the Caps still must be licking their lips over this opportunity...or at least they will if they can get Montreal into the box.

The Canadiens do not take many penalties and are tied for the fourth-fewest minors taken this season at 52.

Ovechkin is due

Ovechkin has 13 goals already this season, but his pace has slowed a bit this month. In six games in November, Ovechkin has only two goals and they both came in the same game against the Florida Panthers on Nov. 7.

The good news is that Ovechkin loves playing against Montreal. In 48 games against Montreal, he has 31 goals and 53 points.

No Kotkaniemi

One of Montreal’s bright young stars will be out of the lineup. Jesperi Kotkaniemi has been out injured for all of November and he will remain out for Friday’s game.

Kotkaniemi is a budding Caps’ killer with two goals and two assists in just three career games against Washington.

One month and counting

The Caps have not lost in regulation since Oct. 14. It is now Nov. 15 and Washington has gone a full month without suffering a single regulation loss. The Caps have points in 13 straight games and have won 11 of their last 13.

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Capitals Prospect Report: Connor McMichael is on pace for a special season

Capitals Prospect Report: Connor McMichael is on pace for a special season

Guys, we need to talk about Connor McMichael.

First off, he had another ridiculous week:

  • On Thursday, Nov. 7 he scored a goal for Team OHL in the Canada-Russia Series in a 4-1 win for the OHL.
  • On Friday, Nov. 8 he scored one goal and three assists in a 4-3 win for London over North Bay. He was named the first star of the game.
  • On Saturday, Nov. 9 he scored one goal and two assists in a 4-2 win for London over Owen Sound. He was again named the first star of the game.
  • On Monday, Nov. 11 he scored a goal in the OHL's second game in the Canada-Russia Series, this time in a losing effort to Russia.

What we really need to talk about is how absurdly McMichael is dominating the OHL. He currently leads the league in points with 41. Arthur Kaliyev and Quinton Byfield are right behind him at 39 points, but both players have played in 21 games. McMichael has played in just 16. Of those 16 games, he has been held off the scoresheet in only one of them. He has registered 19 goals and 22 assists. In 2006-07, Patrick Kane recorded an incredible 62-goal, 145-point season. Through the first 16 games of that season, per The London Free Press, Kane had scored five fewer goals and had seven fewer points.

That's right, McMichael has compiled 41 points in just 16 games. That is a rate of 2.56 points per game. According to McKeen Hockey, that is the second-highest rate of points per game in the OHL among U19 players of all-time, second only to Eric Lindros.

It is still early in the season and that is one heck of a pace he's producing at, but we could be looking at a very special season for him.  That of course begs the question, just how good could this guy be in the NHL?

Other prospect notes

  • Aliaksei Protas sits tied for the WHL lead in points with 30. Earlier in the week he was in sole possession of the league lead meaning that Caps prospects were simultaneously leading both the OHL and WHL in points.
  • Riley Sutter was officially reassigned to Hershey over the week. Because he was injured before the season, he was still technically with the Caps on non-roster season-opening injured reserve. He had been sent to Hershey several weeks ago along with Kody Clark to continue training there, but could not officially be sent to the AHL until he was medically cleared.
  • Nova Caps spoke with Martin Fehervary about his first season in North America. “The hockey in Sweden compared to North America, the style is very similar," he said. "It’s fast hockey, they skate really well so its fast hockey. It’s kind of the same, I would say here it’s a little bit faster but the adjustment was kind of easy so far.” You can read the full article here.
  • Pheonix Copley accomplished a rare feat on Wednesday as he recorded a shutout in a loss. Hershey lost 1-0 in a shootout to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Copley saved all 29 shots he faced in the game to record the shutout, but the Bears ultimately lost in the shootout so he collected the "L" as well.
  • Mitchell Gibson made his collegiate debut on Friday for Harvard. He started against Princeton and stopped all 31 shots he faced for the shutout win. He was given the start again on the following day against Quinnipiac and again had a strong showing with 32 saves on 34 shots in the 7-2 win.
  • Mike Sgarbossa had one of the highlights of the week with his shootout goal against Lehigh Valley.

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