Late September trips to Montreal for exhibition games have become the norm for the Capitals, who will make this year's late summer/early fall trip north of the border on Wednesday night to take on the Canadiens.
Both the Habs and Caps come into Wednesday's game on the heels of a Monday night setback in their respective preseason openers. The Caps dropped a 4-1 decision to the Devils in New Jersey while the Canadiens fell 3-2 to the Boston Bruins in Quebec City.
Exhibition Encore - Of the 20 players who traveled to Newark for Washington's preseason opener on Monday, only one - forward Chandler Stephenson - is in the lineup for Wednesday's game against the Habs.
"The first two games, you try to get as many players in the lineup as possible, and then they sort themselves out a little bit," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "Going up to Montreal will be good, going up against a team that's known for some quickness. I think we'll see [Max] Pacioretty and [Jonathan] Drouin and [Ales] Hemsky as their number one line will be in there, and [they'll have] sort of a supplementary line with [Tomas] Plekanec."
Stephenson took a pair of minor penalties in Monday's game, but he also made a pair of sweet dishes to linemate T.J. Oshie early in that contest; unfortunately Oshie was unable to convert either of them.
Although playing on the wing might offer his best chance of cracking the opening night roster, Stephenson will center Washington's second line tonight, skating between Wayne Simpson and Devante Smith-Pelly.
Video: Orpik talks with Mike Vogel before #CapsHabs
"There is competition on defense, and there is competition on the wing," says Trotz. "I don't think there is a lot of competition at center ice. So I've told guys like Chandler Stephenson, Tyler Graovac and Travis Boyd that we are going to play them at center [in camp], which is useful. But at the same time, we are going to be playing them on the wing because if you're going to make the hockey team, your best shot might be on the wing.
"So I've gone to all those guys and told them that's their best chance to make the hockey team, but also those guys' ability to play multiple positions could influence the decision for us. Maybe we keep this guy because he can play the wing, but he can also play center and he is useful as a penalty killer or whatever. Maybe he brings energy or he brings speed.
"We are still a pretty big team, so maybe a guy like Nathan Walker would be more valuable because he brings that speed. We're looking for what we need, and hopefully we can select correctly. When we come out of the blocks in terms of the regular season, that will be the team we start with. It might not be the team we finish with. I think there is going to be more opportunity for guys to go up and down this year, based on play."
Video: Coach Trotz talks before #CapsHabs
Green Blueline - Veteran rearguard Brooks Orpik will see his first action of the preseason on Wednesday in Montreal, and he will be easily the most experienced hand of the half dozen Caps blueliners in the lineup against the Habs.
Orpik has played in 901 games in the NHL while the other five defensemen combined can't claim half that many contests, even if one were to include their respective minor league careers. Orpik has more than twice as much NHL experience as the other five defensemen have North American pro experience (414 games).
"Jyrki [Jokipakka] obviously has a couple of years under his belt," says Orpik, "but the rest of the guys are younger guys. It's a great place to play in the regular season, and the preseason will be the same way. It's always a good atmosphere there, so it should be exciting for those young guys."
For the first time in a couple of training camps, there are jobs open on the Washington blueline, two of them to be exact. Orpik will help to lead five defensemen who are hoping to nail down one of those two spots when the Caps take on the Habs tonight. Washington currently has a dozen defensemen in its system that are aged 22 or younger. Only one of those blueliners - Lucas Johansen - carries the pedigree of having been a first-round NHL draft choice.
"A lot of these younger guys, I don't think it matters where they're drafted," observes Orpik. "They are all so talented now; they all have skill coaches and they develop at a lot younger age. I think the only problem with that is a lot of these guys want everything to come so quickly, and I think it's tough to really teach experience. You've got to get games under your belt, especially at the pro level with the speed of the play here. I think that's the biggest difference.
"These guys have just got to get games under their belt, whether it's here or in Hershey. The jump from college or junior to the American League is a much bigger jump than it is from the American League to the NHL, and I think younger guys underestimate that."
Road preseason games - particularly early in the exhibition schedule - can provide a thorough baptism by fire for inexperienced blueliners, because the home team generally dresses a much more representative lineup for the local crowd.
"It will be a really good test for the young defense," says Trotz of the game with the Habs. "We're taking a real quality veteran [defenseman] in Orpik there to be the leader of that group, and then it's all young guys. We're going to see how they do against real good competition there, and we'll see how they fare."
"There are some holes in our lineup this year, so there is an opportunity there," says Orpik. "Those guys, most of them come in with a lot of confidence, and that's something that helps out a lot. You've got to be confident in your abilities, especially when we are playing in an environment like we're playing in tonight."
Import/Export - With the offseason departures of veteran homegrown defensemen Andrei Markov (unrestricted free agency), Alexei Emelin (expansion draft) and Nathan Beaulieu (traded to Buffalo), the Habs could start out the season with an entirely imported top six on their blueline.
Ex-Cap Karl Alzner, Jordie Benn, Brandon Davidson, Jeff Petry, David Schlemko, Mark Streit and Shea Weber comprise the current top seven of the Canadiens' blueline depth chart, and all seven have been obtained from other organizations fairly recently.
Of that group of seven defensemen, Petry has the most tenure. He came to Montreal in a deal from Edmonton on March 2, 2015. The Canadiens sent a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft to the Oilers in return, and the Caps eventually obtained that second-rounder in a draft day swap with the Oil. Washington used that pick to select defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler, who will be in the lineup for the Caps tonight.
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Capitals to look for tonight's preseason tilt against the Canadiens in Montreal:
8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 13-Vrana
42-W. Simpson, 18-Stephenson, 25-Smith-Pelly
10-Connolly, 40-Pilon, 43-Wilson
23-Sill, 16-Albert, 14-Peluso
67-Pacioretty, 92-Drouin, 83-Hemsky
54-Hudon, 14-Plekanec, 62-Lehkonen
37-Martinsen, 42-Froese, 38-Scherbak
43-Carr, 13-Holland, 57-Eisenschmid