It appears the Washington Capitals have nowhere to go but down — at least where the regular season is concerned. The past two seasons have ended in disappointment for the Capitals after claiming the Presidents’ Trophy twice, providing a tough act to follow as they open the 2017-18 season on the road at the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night.
Washington rolled up 111 wins over the past two seasons before being eliminated in the second round of the playoffs both times by eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh, but the players are not buying into the predictions of a decline. “As a player, you can really feel from the outside (people) don’t have high expectations, but at the same time, we still have high expectations of ourselves as players,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. The Senators actually may have a more difficult sequel than the Capitals after their stunning run to the Eastern Conference finals, where they pushed the Penguins to double overtime in Game 7. Superstar defenseman and captain Erik Karlsson was not placed on injured reserve but will not be available for the season opener while he continues to recover from foot surgery in mid-June.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Washington, RDS2, TSN5 (Ottawa)
ABOUT THE CAPITALS (2016-17: 55-19-8, 1st in Metropolitan Division): Captain Alex Ovechkin dipped to 33 goals after three consecutive 50-goal campaigns, but he still tied for the league high with 17 power-play tallies. Washington lost a pair of 24-goal scorers in Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams. Still, there is plenty of offensive talent — Backstrom had 23 goals and was second in the league with 63 assists while T.J. Oshie (33 goals) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (59 points) are dangerous attackers. The biggest concern is on a blue line that saw the departures of Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt, leaving Dmitry Orlov, Matt Niskanen and John Carlson at the top defensemen. Fortunately for the Capitals, the last line of defense is manned by Braden Holtby, who is coming off three straight 40-win seasons.
ABOUT THE SENATORS (2016-17: 44-28-10, 2nd in Atlantic Division): Karlsson revealed that half his ankle bone was removed during the June surgery, so all eyes will be on the player who led the team with 71 points in the regular season before collecting 18 points in 19 postseason contests. Kyle Turris, Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone each scored at least 22 goals, but Ottawa will be expecting more from Bobby Ryan and Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who combined for 25 tallies in the regular season before lighting it up in the playoffs. Marc Methot’s departure left a hole on the blue line that was plugged with the signing of veteran Johnny Oduya. Goaltender Craig Anderson had a trying season off the ice while his wife battled cancer, but he registered five shutouts in only 40 starts and has one of the league’s top backups in Mike Condon.
1. Washington’s power play was tied for third in the league last season, converting on 23.1 percent of its chances.
2. Anderson is 11-7-1 with a 2.32 goals-against average versus Washington.
3. Capitals F Tom Wilson received a four-game suspension for a boarding incident in the preseason finale.
PREDICTION: Capitals 4, Senators 1