It's early in the season to be sure, but standings points gained or not gained in October matter just as much as those gained or not gained in March and April. On Friday night in Newark, the Caps take on the New Jersey Devils, who just happen to be sitting atop the Metropolitan Division standings at this early juncture of the campaign.
We are about 10 days into the 2017-18 regular season. If you had the New Jersey Devils and the nascent Vegas Golden Knights (both 3-0-0) as the only two of the NHL's 31 teams to still be undefeated at this point, step to the pay window and collect your cash. The line won't be very long.
The Devils are off to an impressive start, winning three straight (including two on the road) and rolling up a plus-10 goal differential in the process. The Caps are a point behind New Jersey and seeking to leapfrog the Devils in the standings, as well as stem a brief two-game slide (0-1-1).
"Obviously we want to bounce back and get the win here," says Caps forward Andre Burakovsky. "The most important thing for us is that we don't lose two games [in regulation] in a row. It's going to be fun to play these guys. They kind of beat us pretty easy in the preseason, so it's going to be nice to get them going today and to get a win."
Video: Two-Man Advantage | October 13
The 43 Car - Tom Wilson will be back in the lineup tonight for the Capitals after having served the entirety of his four-game NHL suspension for a hit on Blues forward Sam Blais in the Caps' Oct. 1 preseason finale in St. Louis. Wilson had never been suspended over the first four seasons of his NHL career before incurring a pair of them in the preseason, both against St. Louis.
"I'm going to continue to play physical," vows Wilson, "I've just got to be a little bit smarter and maybe a little more poised when it comes to finishing checks in tight areas and at full speed."
Wilson was credited with a total of 894 regular season hits (12th most in the league during that period) over his first four seasons in the league, a span that covers 313 games for Wilson.
In sitting out the first four games of the schedule, Wilson spent more time working out and he sometimes watched from the press box and other times watched on a big screen downstairs with Washington's video coaches.
One of the painful side effects of Wilson's suspension is that it halted a two-season run in which Wilson played in every Capitals' game, a consecutive games played streak of 164.
Video: Rinkside Update | Andre Burakovsky | October 13
New Surroundings In Newark - Washington chose forward Marcus Johansson with its first-round pick (24th overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, and a season later, he learned he had cracked Washington's opening night roster on his 20th birthday.
Over the summer, the Caps shipped Johansson north to New Jersey for a pair of second-round draft choices, and he has settled in nicely in his new surroundings with two goals and four points in three games.
"I think it suits me well," says Johansson, of his second NHL stop in New Jersey after seven seasons and 501 career games with the Capitals. "Our systems and how we play suits this team very well. I guess that's why we do it.
"We've just been playing really well. We haven't made it too hard on ourselves; we're trying to keep it simple. We use what we're good at - we play with speed - and that's the way we like to play. So far, it's given good results, too."
Johansson is manning the left side of New Jersey's second line, with Swiss center -and first overall choice in the 2017 NHL Draft - Nico Hischier and fellow Swede Jesper Bratt. The trio has combined for five goals and 11 points in three games.
"Obviously there is a lot of speed on that line," says Caps coach Barry Trotz, "and then some creativity. Really, they play off each other. I think Jojo is a real good fit with those two young men and he will be a great role model for them.
"They're producing. They're dangerous off the rush, they can make little plays, and defensively they do a real good job. They're playing really well.
Video: Barry Trotz Pregame | October 13
In the Nets - Both the Capitals and the Devils are starting a set of back-to-back games against fellow Metropolitan Division occupants with Friday night's contest at The Rock. The Devils go across the river to face the New York Rangers on Saturday, while the Caps will head south on I-95 for a Saturday night date with the Philadelphia Flyers.
That being the case, both sides are going with their number one netminders for Friday's game, and that means Braden Holtby gets the net for Washington.
Holtby has started three of Washington's four games to date, posting a 2-1-0 mark with a 2.62 GAA and a .925 save pct. Holtby has had some previous success against the Devils over the course of his NHL career, fashioning a 12-3-2 record in 17 appearances to go along with a 1.81 GAA and a .935 save pct.
Workhorse Devils goalie Cory Schneider gets his fourth straight starting assignment at the season's outset tonight. He is 3-0-0 with a 2.00 GAA and a .948 save pct. Schneider has faced 41 or more shots in two of his three starts, and he has seen 116 shots over that span.
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Caps and the Devils to look on Friday night when they take to the ice at Prudential Center:
8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 13-Vrana
65-Burakovsky, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
10-Connolly, 20-Eller, 43-Wilson
39-Chiasson, 83-Beagle, 25-Smith-Pelly
9-Hall, 37-Zacha, 21-Palmieri
90-Johansson, 13-Hischier, 63-Bratt
44-Wood, 14-Henrique, 10-Hayes
39-Gibbons, 40-Coleman, 23-Noesen
11-Boyle (chronic Myeloid leukemia, indefinite)
18-Stafford (lower body, day-to-day)
19-Zajac (torn left pectoral muscle, out 2-4 months)
41-McLeod (torn meniscus in left knee, out 4-6 weeks)