It's the same building, but with a different name. The edifice formerly known as MCI Center and later Verizon Center is now Capital One Arena. A couple months shy of celebrating its 20th anniversary, the big barn on F St. is all set to host another Capitals home opener tonight, and the Montreal Canadiens are in town to provide the opposition.
The Caps opened the 2017-18 campaign on a good note, earning a 5-4 shootout win over the Senators in Ottawa on Thursday night. Saturday's game against Montreal is a one-game homestand; the Caps are right back on the road after the home opener against the Habs. Washington travels to Tampa Bay to take on the Lightning on Monday.
Washington owns a 14-2-1-1 record in home openers since the team moved downtown nearly two decades ago. Including home openers played at the Capital Centre/USAir Arena, the Capitals carry a 24-15-2-1 record in their 42 previous home openers.
Video: Nathan Walker | October 7
Walker, Washington Capital - Caps left wing Nathan Walker will make his NHL debut for Washington tonight, some three years after he was drafted with the team's third-round pick (89th overall) in the 2014 NHL Draft. The 23-year-old Walker will become the first Australian-trained player to play in the NHL.
As a teenager, Walker left Australia to play junior hockey in the Czech Republic so he could play against more formidable competition. He was invited to Washington's summer development camp in 2012, just after he first came to the attention of the Caps' amateur scouting staff. Walker came to North America in the middle of the 2012-13 season to skate with the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL, putting up seven goals and 27 points in just 29 games at that level.
After a season playing on an AHL deal with the Hershey Bears in 2013-14, the Caps expended a third-rounder to get Walker into the organization, and after four seasons in Hershey, he cracked the Capitals' opening night roster this fall.
Tonight marks another significant step on Walker's long and amazing journey, and his family made the trek from Down Under to witness tonight's historic achievement.
"It's been really exciting, and the family is here now," says Walker. "It's been a really good time."
Walker learned a day or two ago that he'd be in Saturday's lineup. He is such a focused and driven individual that knowing ahead of time hasn't had a detrimental effect on him, as it might on some others in his situation. Walker went to bed on Friday night knowing that he'd be making his debut on Saturday, but it didn't cut into his sleep at all.
"I think I can calm the nerves a little bit," says Walker. "It's definitely going to be exciting, so I've got to try to control my emotions and just go out there and do what I need to do for the team to be successful."
Video: Rinkside Update | Brooks Orpik | October 7
Fifteen For 44 - Caps defenseman and alternate captain Brooks Orpik is now in his 15th season in the NHL. Orpik, who turned 37 just days before the start of the season, skated in his 900th career NHL contest late last season.
With some ongoing turnover on the Washington blueline, the Caps are looking to Orpik to help mentor and bring along some of the younger defensemen who are likely to see time in the team's lineup this season.
"He's done a great job for us, whatever we've asked him to do - play with a young guy, move up, give us some minutes, and he's done a great job on the PK," says Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan of Orpik. "I think we're going to use him to help us out while we're developing a couple of the defensemen and getting a better feel for what they can and can't do. So I could see him moved up, moved down and used in different roles throughout the year."
Orpik has one season remaining on his contract beyond 2017-18. As one of the wisest players ever to come through the District, he has a commanding presence in the room, especially with the younger players. It's not at all difficult to envision a future for Orpik behind a bench when his playing days are done, should he choose to go that route.
"I really haven't given much thought about it to be honest with you," says Orpik. "But I definitely enjoy being around the young guys coming up now. Those younger guys push you to keep going. These are guys who are trying to take your job, and it's kind of a weird situation, because you know eventually these guys are going to take your job. But at the same time, you're trying to help them out and you're trying to help them out, and you're trying to make their transition as easy as possible."
And this season in particular, helping those young guys out is also helping to make the team better.
"Exactly," Orpik avers. "And I think you'll see a lot of those young guys here. A lot of them had really, really good training camps. I think we lost the fewest man games [to injury] the last couple of years, too, which you can't count on that happening again. So whether it's injuries or just getting different looks, I think a lot of those guys will be here. There were three or four of them that I felt like had great camps, and they probably could have stuck here, if it wasn't for the numbers."
On opening night in Ottawa, Orpik logged 24:47 in ice time, the most he has skated in a single contest since the middle of the 2014-15 season, his first as a member of the Capitals.
"It's funny," says Orpik, "a lot of games you can look at the minutes and try to anticipate how you're going to feel, but a lot of it - like last game, when we were shorthanded five times, those are harder minutes. Sometimes it's more physical, and that wears on you a little bit more. Last game, being shorthanded as much as we were, it wore on us a little bit."
Orpik logged 5:54 of shorthanded ice time in Thursday's game, second most among all Capitals and more than half of the 10 total minutes of man advantage time the Senators enjoyed in that contest. Washington's penalty killing outfit was perfect on the night, killing off all five Ottawa power plays without incident.
Video: Two-Man Advantage | October 7
Bleu, Blanc et Rouge - The Caps face a second straight Atlantic Division foe in the Habs, and they'll see a Montreal team that has a bit of a different dynamic with the offseason acquisition of forward Jonathan Drouin. Drouin came from Tampa Bay, where he often skated on the wing. With the Canadiens, Drouin will be slotted as the team's top line pivot.
"He is a game changer," says Caps coach Barry Trotz of Drouin, "especially on the power play where they work that half wall. He is so deceptive, he's got such great stick skills, he's got great vision and he has a great shot. If he starts attacking your net and you over-commit to him, he can pick you apart because he can make plays like [Nicklas Backstrom] does.
"He is a lot to reckon with because he is a real dynamic player."
Video: Barry Trotz Pregame | October 7
Hello Old Friend - Canadiens defenseman Karl Alzner returns to Washington for the first time tonight since signing with Montreal as an unrestricted free agent over the summer.
A blueline stalwart here in the District for the better part of the last decade, Alzner played in 591 games with Washington. Only seven defensemen in team history played more games in a Caps sweater than Alzner did.
"Hopefully he doesn't shoot a puck at me," jokes Trotz. "I took one from him last year. It wasn't a shot but a deflection.
"He's always in the shot lane. He's just a good pro. He has had a big impact, not only with the Washington Capitals' organization, but in the community and he was one of the favorite guys in the room. With guys on the other side - just like [Marcus Johansson] and some of the other guys that have been here for a while - the first time back will be hard for him emotionally I'm sure, but at the same he's pretty familiar with the confines of the Capital One [Arena]."
Alzner has played in 541 consecutive games now, the fifth longest active streak of its kind in the NHL, and the second longest active streak among blueliners in the league. Tonight, Alzner will skate in his 542nd consecutive game, tying ex-Caps teammate Brendan Morrison for the 17th longest iron man streak in NHL history.
Video: Devante Smith-Pelly | October 7
In The Nets - Carey Price starts tonight for the Canadiens. Price has been one of the best in the business for several seasons now, but he hasn't had the easiest time of it against Washington over the years. He has won only six of his 21 career starts (6-11-4) against the Capitals, and has a 3.03 GAA and a .900 save pct. in those contests.
Braden Holtby gets the net tonight for Washington. Holtby is 10-1-2 lifetime against the Canadiens with a 1.62 GAA, a .941 save pct. and a pair of shutouts.
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Caps and the Canadiens to look on Saturday night when they take to the ice at Capital One Arena for Washington's home opener:
8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 13-Vrana
65-Burakovsky, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
10-Connolly, 20-Eller, 39-Chiasson
79-Walker, 83-Beagle, 25-Smith-Pelly
67-Paciroretty, 92-Drouin, 11-Gallagher
54-Hudon, 14-Plekanec, 62-Lehkonen
27-Galchenyuk, 24-Danault, 65-Shaw
41-Byron, 25-de la Rose, 83-Hemsky