Red, white and blue meets the rouge, blanc et bleu when the Washington Capitals host the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday. Washington won its opener 5-4 in a shootout at Ottawa on Thursday as Alex Ovechkin recorded his 18th career hat trick while the Capitals’ top line that also includes Evgeny Kuznetsov and forward Jakub Vrana is already clicking in mid-season form.
“It’s always nice when you have the chemistry like we have,” Kuznetsov, who assisted on all three Ovechkin goals and like Ovechkin scored in the shootout, told reporters. “We understand each other. ... Sometimes you don’t see your partner, but you hear him.’’ Vrana, the 13th overall pick in the 2014 draft, added two assists, prompting Ovechkin to tell reporters: “I said before the game, if he’s going to play the way he can play, he’s going to help us. And it’s going to be huge for him as well.” Montreal also won its first game, 3-2 in a shootout at Buffalo on Thursday as Jonathan Drouin was a factor in his Canadiens debut. The 22-year-old, who was converted to center after being acquired from Tampa Bay in an effort to enhance his playmaking abilities, recorded an assist and scored the only goal in the shootout.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, CITY, TVAS (Montreal), NBCSN Washington
ABOUT THE CANADIENS (1-0-0): Drouin centers a line with Brendan Gallagher and captain Max Pacioretty, and assisted on Pacioretty’s goal. “He played really well. We had a lot of chances, and he had a lot of chances,” Pacioretty told reporters about Drouin. “It was a good start, but there are some areas we’d like to improve in. We had a lot of scoring chances, and with chemistry I think we can be even better at converting them.” Defenseman David Schlemko (hand), who played for five teams between 2014-17, practiced Thursday but is questionable to make his Montreal debut Saturday while defenseman Shea Weber did not practice Friday in what was described as a therapy day.
ABOUT THE CAPITALS (1-0-0): Washington’s Nathan Walker will become the first Australian to play in the NHL when he makes his debut Saturday. Walker, who played at the junior level in the Czech Republic, recorded 28 goals and 36 assists in the past two seasons (131 games) with Hershey of the American Hockey League. Vrana recorded five shots on goal Thursday, second only to Ovechkin’s six, and played 17:16.
1. Pacioretty recorded four goals and an assist in his last four season openers, but has only one assist in the last three second games of the campaign.
2. Capitals D John Carlson logged 27:45 of ice time Thursday with fellow defensemen Dmitry Orlov (26:06), Matt Niskanen (25:03) and Brooks Orpik (24:47) not far behind.
3. The road team has won four straight meetings, six of the last seven, eight of 10 and 21 of 28.
PREDICTION: Canadiens 3, Capitals 2