by Zach Shapiro @ShapZach
On opening night, Stanley Cup nostalgia was partly manufactured – or at least aided – with ceremonies and banners, films and flashing red lights. Tonight, the matchup itself will spark such memories, no extra work needed.
The Vegas Golden Knights will visit Washington, the team the Capitals extinguished in five games last June and with it the cinderella story of the expansion team’s Cup run. Washington is expecting a revengeful Knights team.
“We know they’re going to be a motivated group, with a little extra on the line, and obviously in a five-game series you develop a little bit of a hatred for certain guys,” coach Todd Reirden joked. “So it’s nice to get back into that rivalry. I think it will be good for our team, especially after five days, to help us get right into the game against a hungry team looking to knock us off.”
For that reason, the Capitals won’t reminisce too much tonight. While players said the city of Vegas will always have special meaning, they’re focused on the 2018-19 season.
“I think last year is gone,” Alex Ovechkin said. “It’s a new year. They lost a couple key guys, we lost a couple key guys. But I think the night will be very interesting – lots of memories.”
“When the season starts you have to be ready,” said Andre Burakovsky. “We can’t look back. Obviously it was a great year that we had but now it’s time to look forward.”
Reirden said the Capitals have watched tape on both last year’s cup and the Knight’s first three games of this season to prepare. He praised the Knight’s speed and pursuit of pucks. Vegas has started the year 1-2, posting two goals in every game.
Extra Time For Recovery, Adjustments
The five-day break between games in October was unusual – Ovechkin called the scheduling “a bit weird” – but the hiatus allowed injured players to recover and new players to learn the system without missing significant game action.
Defenseman Michal Kempny, 28, expects to play Wednesday night. He suffered an upper-body injury in a preseason game in St. Louis on Sept. 25. Kempny returned to practice last Saturday.
Reirden confirmed that he will make his return tonight, and lauded Kempny’s fluidity on the ice through the last few skates.
“He was obviously instrumental in our success last year,” Reirden said of Kempny, who arrived in Washington via a trade from Chicago last February. He then notched five points (2g, 3a) in the playoffs, a career-stretch of offensive production. “We were anxious this summer to sign him long term, to get him and [defenseman] John [Carlson] back together.”
The Caps have also brought new guys up to speed this past week, slowly introducing concepts and easing them into the system, a process Reirden treats delicately with any new player. “Once they feel comfortable, watched a couple games, been through warmups,” Reirden said, “now you put him in a situation where [they can contribute].”
The winger is known mainly for his physicality and defense, but Reirden’s looking for Jaskin to become a more complete player in Washington.
“I’d like to see some more offense from him,” Reirden said of Jaskin, who registered 17 points in 76 games last year in St. Louis, where he spent the first six years of his career. “I’d like to see him get involved and have the puck a little bit more and create something off the rush – just some of the things that I thought made him a really high prospect.”
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