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Caps Host Blues

The last two Cup champs meet in DC in a Wednesday exhibition game

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps /

September 18 vs. St. Louis Blues at Capital One Arena

Time: 7:00 p.m.


Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7

Washington's three-game preseason homestand continues on Wednesday when the St. Louis Blues come to the District for the middle match of the homestand. The contest pits the league's two most recent Stanley Cup champions, and it's the first of three games between the Caps and the Blues - two of them are exhibition affairs - in a span of just 15 days. The Capitals will open the 2019-20 season on the road in St. Louis on Oct. 2, and they'll play a preseason game there on Sept. 27.

The Caps started off the preseason on a strong note, claiming a 4-3 overtime win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday night in the District. Rookie center Aliaksei Protas had a three-point game (one goal, two assists) in his first NHL preseason contest, and he set up Tom Wilson's overtime game-winner at 2:35 of the extra session.

For Monday's opener against the Hawks, the Caps dressed an extremely youthful lineup with no players over the age of 29. Wednesday's group will be a much more veteran crew. The Caps have only six exhibition games this fall - one fewer than they've typically played in recent years - and they've got to make sure their core players get enough reps and games to be ready when the bell rings on Oct. 2 in St. Louis.

"It's a little bit of a tough situation in terms of how to get what you need out of your key guys," says Caps coach Todd Reirden, "and make sure that they're prepared, but also it's a great opportunity for us to look at our young players. I think that the number of preseason games over the years that the players really need to play has - just from an injury standpoint and for the sake of how prepared they are for camp - gone down. That's one of the reasons we went down to six this year, and it's something that we're trying and we will re-evaluate after this one is done.

"I think it is a good number for us right now, and it allows us to do both. We can see some young players, and also allow some of the older guys to be prepared for the start of the regular season."

Video: Todd Reirden | September 17

Most of the Caps' lineup will turnover for Wednesday's game against the Blues. But a trio of the standouts from Monday's win over Chicago will get a second look on Wednesday, and a third member of the Caps' 2019 NHL Draft class will make his preseason debut against the Blues.

Forwards Protas, Connor McMichael and Damien Riat will be in the lineup for the second time in as many games. The 18-year-old McMichael, Washington's top pick (25th overall) in the 2019 NHL Draft, had a strong debut on Monday and picked up an assist on Riat's goal.

That trio of forwards and goaltender Ilya Samsonov are the only four players who will have dressed for each of the Caps' first two preseason games. Reirden says Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek will split the goaltending duties on Wednesday against the Blues.

Brett Leason, the Caps' second-round choice (55th overall) in the 2019 Draft, will make his NHL preseason debut on Wednesday against the Blues, skating on a line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

Wednesday night's game will also mark the first time pulling the Washington sweater on for winger Richard Panik, signed as an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Panik will likely ride shotgun on a line with Carl Hagelin on the left and Lars Eller in the middle, so Reirden and the local faithful will get their first look at that newly minted unit.

Washington will dress an entirely new set of six defensemen against St. Louis, highlighted by Radko Gudas' debut in a Caps' sweater. The Caps obtained Gudas from Philadelphia in a June swap that sent blueliner Matt Niskanen to the Flyers.

Video: Caps 365 | September 17

Martin Fehervary, the impressive Slovakian defenseman who was a second-round pick (46th overall) in 2018, will also play against St. Louis, seeing his first action of the preseason.

The Blues opened their eight-game preseason slate on a high note on Monday, shutting out the Stars in Dallas, 2-0. Klim Kostin and Robert Bortuzzo supplied the offense for St. Louis in that game, supporting the netminding efforts of starter and winner Ville Husso (13 saves) and Adam Wilcox (nine saves). Ex-Caps winger Nathan Walker picked up an assist in his first game in a St. Louis sweater.

St. Louis didn't suffer any heavy personnel losses from last season's championship team, nor did the Blues add any key pieces over the offseason. Despite playing in the highly competitive Central Division, the Blues shape up as a team that is capable of repeating as champs because they'll be putting virtually the same team back on the ice in 2019-20.

From the standpoint of Washington fans, one of the best things about watching the Blues raise the Cup was seeing longtime Caps winger Craig Berube win a championship as the St. Louis bench boss. Berube was installed as interim head coach last November, replacing Mike Yeo. Days after the Blues won the title, the team removed the "interim" portion of his title and rewarded him with a three-year contract.

Although he was passed over in the NHL Entry Draft, Berube played in 1,054 games over the course of a 17-year NHL playing career, finally winning his first Cup this past June. He skated for five different NHL teams, but played more games (419) during his two tours of duty in a Washington sweater than he did anywhere else.

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