After starting the 2017 preseason slate by splitting a pair of road games, the Capitals return home for three straight tilts at the newly renamed Capital One Arena.
The Caps will start the weekend with a set of back-to-back home tilts, which is generally a rare occurrence. Washington hosts the St. Louis Blues on Friday night, and the Carolina Hurricanes come into town on Saturday. The Caps will close out the home portion of the preseason slate with a Wednesday night visit from the New Jersey Devils.
Big Weekend - For many in Caps camp, this will be an important weekend. Jobs are up for grabs and most - if not all - of the players vying for those jobs should see some action here this weekend.
Winger Jakub Vrana was impressive in his first preseason showing on Wednesday in Montreal, a game in which he skated on the right side of a line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Tonight against the Blues, Vrana will move to the left side, and he'll play with Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie.
Video: Rinkside Update | TJ Oshie | September 22
"I actually told [Vrana] this morning, 'When you see a play, make it,'" recounts Oshie. "We've seen what he can do, and he did a great job last season when he was playing with us. You see in preseason here how quick and how strong he is. Some guys, when they're out on the ice and they have that speed, you almost don't think about how strong they are. But he's a very strong kid on the puck.
"So I told him this morning just to make your play. Whatever you read, make it, and we'll support you and we'll figure it out. I'm excited to play with him. I don't even know if I've had a shift with him before; he usually ends up on the right side. It's going to be fun to be out there playing with him, and it's always fun to play with Nick. He is a special player."
While players such as Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Oshie and Ovechkin are assured of their spots in the team's top six, it's not yet clear how the line combinations will shake out for the start of the season.
"I think when there is a little competition for guys to fill those spots that are open," says Oshie, "and after that competition for ice time - for your position in the lineup and for special teams - I think that competition only brings out the best in us and it brings out the best in the team. So I think it's very good for us.
"There is a little bit of excitement. I think before, it was knowing our team and preparing to try to win a Stanley Cup, and right now it's the excitement of getting some new faces and getting a fresh, different feel in the locker room."
Video: Barry Trotz | September 22
A Wing And A Player - Caps forward Chandler Stephenson has skated in each of Washington's first two preseason games, the only player with that distinction. Tonight, Stephenson will make it three-for-three when he suits up against St. Louis.
After playing center in each of his first two preseason outings, Stephenson will move to the left side of Washington's third line tonight, skating with Lars Eller and Tom Wilson. Given the Capitals' strength, depth and lack of turnover in the middle of the ice, the best opportunities for young players hoping to crack the roster are on the wing.
"I've just got to be a little bit more 'on,'" says Stephenson of the switch. "I've played center the past four or five years or so, and I just naturally know where to be and what to expect and that kind of thing. Playing wing is going to be a little bit of a transition, but Willie and Els will help me out with that."
Stephenson has three pro seasons under his belt, and he would require waivers to be returned to AHL Hershey. He has shown gradual improvement each season with the Bears, and has skated in a total of 13 games with the Capitals over the last two seasons as well.
The 23-year-old was Washington's third-round (77th overall) choice in the 2012 NHL Draft, and this fall marks the best chance he has had to crack the roster to date.
"Pretty good," responds Stephenson when asked for a self-assessment of his work in the Capitals' first two preseason games. "I think there is still a little more there, but with every preseason game I get a little bit more comfortable and get a little better feel for the game, and the speed and all that."
Video: Two-Man Advantage | September 22
Youth Will Be Served - St. Louis will be bringing an extremely youthful lineup with it to Washington tonight. The Blues' most experienced player from a standpoint of regular season games played in the NHL is winger Magnus Paajarvi, who was the 10th overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. The 26-year-old Paajarvi was originally with the Edmonton organization, and he has skated in 308 contests in the league.
While the Blues' lineup tonight might be a little short on experience, they're not lacking in pedigree. St. Louis is bringing five of its recent first-round choices to the District, including both of its first-round selections from the 2017 NHL Draft: Robert Thomas (20th overall) and Klim Kostin (31st overall).
Nine of the 20 players the Blues will dress tonight were first- or second-round picks and are St. Louis draft choices. Each of the Blues' top nine prospects - as listed in the always excellent 2017-18 McKeen's Hockey Annual - will be in the lineup against the Capitals tonight.
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Capitals to look for Friday night's home exhibition opener against Blues:
13-Vrana, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
65-Burakovsky, 72-Boyd, 25-Smith-Pelly
18-Stephenson, 20-Eller, 43-Wilson
50-Bau, 91-Graovac, 14-Peluso
15-Fabbri, 49-Barbashev, 78-Bennett
56-Paajarvi, 70-Sundqvist, 32-Thompson
23-Jaskin, 36-Thomas, 72-Kyrou
37-Kostin, 61-Megan, 67-Bleackley