The Washington Capitals will set out to defend their Southeast Division title when their 2008-09 regular season slate begins in Atlanta against the Thrashers on Oct. 10. This marks the second straight season that the Caps will open their season in Atlanta. It’s only the second time in the team’s history that they have faced the same team in the season opener in consecutive campaigns. The first such instance was in 1983 and 1984, when Washington faced Philadelphia at the Spectrum.
Washington will open on the road for the third straight season. It’s the team’s longest streak of season openers on the road since the Caps opened on the road for seven straight seasons from 1981-87. In a weird scheduling quirk, Washington’s season opener is its only Friday night road game of the entire season.
Caps coach Bruce Boudreau will be behind the bench for his first season opener in the NHL; he took over Washington’s head coaching duties last November 22. Boudreau’s best buddy John Anderson will be coaching the Thrashers that night in his NHL coaching debut. Boudreau and Anderson have been pals since they came up through the Toronto Maple Leafs’ chain as players in the 1970s.
Caps fans won’t have to wait long for the team’s home opener. Washington will start the season with back-to-back games for the second straight year. After opening in Atlanta, the Caps will return to the District for an Oct. 11 date with the Chicago Blackhawks at Verizon Center.
Ex-Caps goaltender Cristobal Huet will mark his return to the Phone Booth in an enemy sweater that night. Huet, who helped lead the Caps to the Southeast crown last season, spurned the Caps to ink a four-year pact with Chicago on July 1.
The Caps’ longest homestand of 2008-09 is from Feb. 18-26 when they’ll play host to Montreal, Colorado, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Atlanta at Verizon Center.
Washington’s longest road stretch is five games, which it will endure twice. But neither stretch is likely to be a five-game “trip.” The Caps play five straight road games in November, beginning with a Nov. 15 date in New Jersey. They’ll almost certainly head home afterwards, and then set out from Washington for the next four games, the first of which is a Nov. 19 game with the Ducks in Anaheim.
The Caps also have five consecutive road contests in March. After a spell of four games in six nights from Mar. 16-21, the Caps could head home for a day to do their laundry. Or, they could head directly to Toronto where the five-game road run concludes on Mar. 24.
The 2008-09 schedule features just 13 sets of back-to-back games, the fewest the team has had in a number of years. After their final pair of back-to-back games on Mar. 16-17, the Caps will close out the season with a leisurely pace of 10 games in 25 days. Contrast that to the stretch in late November and early December in which Washington will play 14 times in 24 days.
Here’s the breakdown by month and by days of the week:
October * Four games at home, five on the road * Six of the nine October games are vs. Western Conference foes * One set of back-to-back games
November * Six at home, nine on the road * Five games vs. Western Conference opponents * Three sets of back-to-backs * Four-game road trip just before Thanksgiving (five straight on road, ties season high) * Traditional Thanksgiving Eve home game vs. Atlanta
December * Seven at home, seven on the road * Two sets of back-to-backs
January * Seven at home, five on the road * Three sets of back-to-backs * Traditional New Year’s Day home game vs. Tampa Bay * Four-game homestand from Jan. 1-9 * Stanley Cup champion Red Wings visit for Saturday matinee on Jan. 31
February * Eight at home, five on the road * Two sets of back-to-backs (including Jan. 31-Feb. 1) * Traditional Super Bowl Sunday game on Feb. 1 * Season high five-game homestand from Feb. 18-26
March * Six at home, seven on the road * Two sets of back-to-backs (including Feb. 28-Mar. 1) * Five straight on the road (ties season high)
April * Three at home, three on the road * No back-to-backs