The Washington Capitals raise the curtain on the home portion of their 2016-2017 season on Saturday night when they host the New York Islanders at Verizon Center. Both teams will be looking to post their first win of the new season, both having lost their season openers to perhaps their most bitter rivals. The Caps dropped a 3-2 decision in the trick shot competition against the Pittsburgh Penguins, while the Islanders lost to the New York Rangers, 5-3, in a game that featured a wild third period with each team scoring three goals.
New York comes into this contest with several new faces. One is Dennis Seidenberg, a defenseman with more than 750 regular season games of experience, now in his 14th NHL season and his sixth team. For the seven season preceding this one, Seidenberg skated with the Boston Bruins, often with Zdeno Chara as his partner. He joins Johnny Boychuk as the thirtysomethings on the blueline on a squad that is otherwise in their mid-twenties. Seidenberg, who was bought out by the Bruins over the summer and who turned 35 in July, was once one of the more durable defensemen in the league, but recent years have been plagued by injuries. He lost 56 games (44 in the regular season and 12 in the playoffs) to a knee injury in 2013-2014, and he had two absences to injury last season – 14 games in November for back surgery and five more in April to a lower body injury. He is 1-11-12, minus-10 in 37 career games against Washington.
Another of the new faces is Andrew Ladd, although his face would be familiar to Caps fans from his years with the Carolina Hurricanes and the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets. Ladd is another member of the 700 Club, having played in 770 games in his career over 12 seasons. Ladd has been a reliable and consistent, if not flashy goal scorer over his entire career. Only once in the last six seasons did he fail to hit the 20-goal mark, and he still managed 18 in 48 games of the abbreviated 2012-2013 season. Last season, split between the Jets and the Chicago Blackhawks, Ladd scored 25 goals, a total higher than in any season since 2011-2012 (28). Ladd faces the Caps with his fourth NHL team and is 14-19-33, plus-13 in 42 games overall.
Another new face at the other end of the experience scale is left winger Anthony Beauvillier. The 28th overall pick of the 2015 draft was something of a surprise coming out of training camp on the parent roster, perhaps especially so given his size (5’11”/170 pounds). His diminutive stature has not been an impediment to his scoring goals though, at least not in junior hockey./ Over the last two seasons with the Shawinigan Cataractes, Beauvillier had 82 goals in 114 regular season games, and he had another 23 goals in 28 postseason games.
1. Last year, goaltender Jaroslav Halak followed up an iffy first game out (three goals on 22 shots in a 6-3 win over the San Jose Sharks) with a 37-save shutout in his second game (a 4-0 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets). He allowed four goals on 38 shots in the 5-3 loss to the New York Rangers in the Islanders’ opener. Let’s hope this second game thing doesn’t become a trend.
2. The Islanders’ top line had an interesting look it its opener. John Tavares centering that line – a given. Andrew Ladd on one wing – solid scorer. On the other side…Jason Chimera. That’s right, the Ice Cheetah opened the season on the top line and did have a shot on goal (Ladd had four, Tavares three, but the line did not record a point).
3. Last season, Nick Leddy became just the third Islander defenseman since the 2005-2005 lockout to record 40 points in a season. Mark Streit did it three times, and Tom Poti did it once. Odd thing about those five instances of defensemen scoring 40 points. Only one of them was a year when the player finished with a positive plus-minus (Mark Streit was plus-5 with his 16-40-56 season in 2008-2009).
4. Whether it is a case of turnover or just John Tavares’ talent, he is the Islanders’ active roster leader in goals scored with the franchise with 207. No other Islander on the squad has more than 93 – Josh Bailey, and that in 47 more career games than Tavares (558 to 511).
5. Jaroslav Halak is within striking distance of playing in his 100the NHL game (he has appeared in 96 games to date for the Isles). When he gets to 100, he will take over the franchise top spot in goals against average (it is currently 2.40; Glenn Resch is next at 2.56). He will also take over the top spot in save percentage, absent a collapse (currently .915 to Evgeni Nabokov’s .910). He is already in the top-ten in wins (56) and will tie Nabokov for eighth place if he wins on Saturday.
1. There have been 452 skaters dressing for games through Thursday’s games. Only ten of them have a shooting percentage of 100 percent. Andre Burakovsky is one of them. He and Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher are the only two to have done it on two shots.
2. Caps defensemen accounted for 15 shots on goal in the 3-2 Gimmick loss to Pittsburgh in the opener. John Carlson had five of them, the 30th time in his career he recorded five or more shots on goal in a game. Not that he has been especially efficient in those games. Carlson is 5-for-170 (2.9 percent) in those 30 games.
3. The safest bet you can make about a Caps home opener is that Alex Ovechkin will be on the score sheet. In 11 home openers to date, Ovechkin has points in 11 of them (he was blanked by Montreal in the 2014 home opener). He has goals in eight of those games, and his scoring line in home openers is 13-7-20, plus-11. The Caps are 9-1-1 in those games.
4. Braden Holtby, on the other hand, has not been lights out, so to speak, in home openers. Quite the contrary. In four home openers he has allowed 11 goal;s on 98 shots in just under 200 minutes. That works out to a 3.30 goals against average and a .888 save percentage. He is 1-1-1 with one no-decision in those openers.
5. From 2001 through 2011, the Caps won ten straight home openers, but since then have alternated wins and losses (2-1-1). They are trying to win consecutive home openers for the first time since 2010 and 2011.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
New York: Jason Chimera
Jason Chimera was given a chance on opening night to play with more talented forwards than he might have seen on a regular basis in the past. Skating with John Tavares and Andrew Ladd could, if it continues, give Chimera a chance to break a curious pattern in recent years. Over his last five seasons he record 20 goals, three, 15, seven, and then 20 goals again last season. Getting off to good starts has been important in the productive seasons in that stretch. He had three goals in his first two games and four in the first five of the 2011-2012 seaosn when he had 20 goals, five in his first 13 games of the 2013-2014 season when he had 15 goals, and three in his first six games last season when he hit the 20 goal mark for the second time in his career. Chimera is 1-2-3, plus-2 in five career games against Washington.
Washington: Tom Wilson
It was not an auspicious start to the new season for Tom Wilson. He skated just 5:31 in ice time, did not have a shot of goal or a shot attempt. He did have three hits and a fighting major, but this is a season in which Wilson has nothing left to prove as far as his ability to apply a physical game is concerned. He could be in a Catch-22 situation in which he is getting fourth line minutes that do not give him much opportunity to produce more in the offensive end of the rink, but he is has to produce more to be promoted into more offensively responsible roles. Wilson is 1-3-4, plus-1 in 12 career games against the Islanders. He has more career points against the Islanders than he has against any other team except the Columbus Blue Jackets (five points).
In the end…
For the Islanders, there is a “future is now” quality about their roster retooling, even though they have just the 18th-oldest team in the league. Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ladd both have Stanley Cups on their resumes (Ladd with the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes and 2010 Chicago Blackhawks, Seidenberg with the 2011 Boston Bruins). For the Caps, it is an opportunity to welcome their fans back to hockey in friendly confines on one level. On another it is a chance to establish their home dominance out of the gate and get some players they need to contribute off and running.
Capitals 4 – Islanders 1