Chapter One - Washington opens up its 2017-18 season, the 43rd season of its NHL existence, on Thursday night in Ottawa against the Senators. This marks the first time the Caps have ever opened the season against their nation's capital brethren from the north, and the first time they've opened a campaign in Canada since 1997-98 when they opened with a 4-1 victory over the Maple Leafs in Toronto at venerable Maple Leaf Gardens.
Thursday's season opener starts a stretch in which Washington will play six games in 10 nights to kick off the season, with four of those six games to be played on the road.
The New Kids In Town - Washington's opening night lineup is likely to include seven players who did not suit up for last season's Caps opener, for whatever reason.
On the blueline are veteran pros Taylor Chorney and Aaron Ness, both of whom are in the lineup for the season opener for the first time at the NHL level.
"Honestly, it's pretty cool," says Chorney, who didn't see his first game action until mid-November last season. "I've been playing a long time, for a lot of different teams and a lot of tough years. Maybe you feel like you got the short end of the stick, but it's nice to be here and get an opportunity to play on opening night for a team like this. It's awesome."
Ness and Chorney are expected to comprise the Caps' third blueline pairing in tonight's opener against the Senators.
Video: Taylor Chorney Pregame | October 5
"Obviously making the team was the goal coming in," says Ness. "It's exciting; I've never done that out of any camp. To be a part of this team is really exciting and I'm looking forward to [Thursday night]."
Ness has 39 games worth of NHL experience accumulated over parts of four different seasons. The 27-year-old Minnesotan has taken advantage of a great opportunity to make the Caps' roster, now he takes aim on remaining here.
"I think it's a matter of never getting comfortable and continuing to try to outdo yourself every day," says Ness, "continue to one-up yourself and get better, and work on things. Don't take anything for granted. You can make this team just as fast as you can get sent down. It's a unique situation, and I'm just going to keep pushing as hard as I can every day and hopefully stay for a long time."
Up front, the new faces include offseason imports Alex Chiasson (free agent, Calgary last season), Tyler Graovac (trade from Minnesota) and Devante Smith-Pelly (free agent, New Jersey last season) along with Brett Connolly and youngster Jakub Vrana. Connolly was on the roster for last season's Caps opener, but not in the lineup. Vrana played 21 games with Washington as a rookie last season, but wasn't recalled from AHL Hershey until early December.
Trotz had praise for each of his three recent additions to the organization.
"He just played consistent," says Caps coach Barry Trotz of Chiasson. "He just played consistent right through. He is a very detailed guy, and he is a big body. I think he was able to find pucks in the interior, and there wasn't any aspect of his game where I could say, 'Hey, there is a big hole here.'
"I moved him up the lineup and he played with our top guys and was very productive. I moved him down the lineup, and he adjusted. He's a good pro. He is one of those guys who maybe gets overlooked because he doesn't look like he's the fastest skater, but he gets there. [With] that big frame and that big reach, strength on the puck and his detail and his attention on both sides of the puck, having a real good balance. He had 12 even-strength goals last year; that's in [Alex Ovechkin's neighborhood] in terms of five-on-five. That's pretty good. It's hard to score in this league when you don't get on the power play and don't play special teams. He was pretty consistent last year."
Graovac was a camp revelation, standing out with his size, speed, penalty killing prowess and some scoring touch, too.
"Gravo was a guy I virtually knew nothing about," says Trotz. "We saw him one game against us, but obviously Mac and our scouts identified him as someone who would qualify for the expansion draft. And he came in and made his mark, he was noticeable.
"It was one of the first training camps - other than my first year in Washington - where we went into camp saying, 'Hey, there is competition in spots. Eye your competition. Make sure you out-produce them, and make sure you outplay them every day and make a statement.' And he did. And by making that statement, a guy like Chandler Stephenson, a young guy we were thinking could probably take the next step, Gravo basically beat him out. And that was based on performance, and nothing else."
Smith-Pelly had a couple of goals and a couple of assists in the preseason, but his penalty killing acumen was also noteworthy, and he seems likely to see significant duty in that area this season.
"Just detail, good stick detail and good compete," says Trotz of Smith-Pelly's work on Washington's penalty killing outfit. "Some guys get the puck when they're penalty killing and they panic, and you don't get the clear and then you're in your end [of the ice]. He's been pretty efficient in some of those areas.
"With Devo, I didn't know much about him, either. Other than we see him a couple of times a year playing for the opposition the last couple of years, and he was out west for a few of years. It's been a learning experience for them and for us. The way we play and the way we practice versus what they're used to, and also us getting to know them. The personalities and the players, they've all fit in pretty well."
Video: Barry Trotz Pregame | October 5
Happy Anniversary - It was 10 years ago tonight (Oct. 5, 2007) that Caps center Nicklas Backstrom played in his first NHL game in Atlanta's Philips Arena against the Thrashers.
Just 19 at the time, Backstrom was the 29th teenager to suit up for the Capitals to that point in time, including five of his teammates that night: Steve Eminger, Boyd Gordon, Olie Kolzig, Alexander Semin and Brian Sutherby.
Backstrom collected his first NHL point that night as well, earning the lone assist on Michael Nylander's power-play goal at 10:41 of the first period, the first goal the Caps scored that season. Playing the left side of a line with Nylander and Brooks Laich (Semin was supposed to be on the right side of that unit, but an ankle injury kept him out of the lineup that night), Backstrom skated 14:45 on the night.
"I think I was starting as a winger back then," says Backstrom. "It was obviously the first game. You were nervous, but at the same time you were so excited about playing your first game here. It wasn't maybe the most energizing building, but it was fun. It was a lot of fun."
Video: Rinkside Update | Nicklas Backstrom
Stingy Sens - In the three games the Caps played against Ottawa last season, they managed a total of three goals, from Karl Alzner, Taylor Chorney and T.J. Oshie. Somehow, the Caps were able to win two of those three contests.
"Number one, they have a good team and they've got good structure," says Trotz. "I think they've got some good people on the back end, and they've got good goaltending. They were difficult to score against."
Tonight, the Sens will be without all-world defenseman Erik Karlsson, who is nearly recovered from offseason foot surgery.
"Thank you," joked Trotz, speaking of Karlsson's absence from the lineup for Thursday's season opener. "Karlsson is the best defenseman in the National Hockey League right now. The way he skates and the way he sees the game - especially with their structure on their breakouts. It's pretty hard to forecheck a guy who is so elusive. Everybody has seen that pass right from the goal line to the blueline, and that wasn't an accident, that's a high skill level.
"I think there is an element [the Sens] have on their breakout and in their structure that they're obviously going to miss a little bit, but they're still a good hockey team. They went to the conference final and they've got good structure. They're sneaky good in terms of their offense; they've got some really productive guys like [Mike] Hoffman and [Mark] Stone and [Bobby] Ryan and [Kyle] Turris is under the radar.
"They're a real good hockey team, so don't take them lightly. You can't; they're a good team."
At the opposite end of the Sens' defensive depth chart, Ottawa signed blueliner Mark Borowiecki to a two-year contract extension on Thursday, a deal that carries an annual salary cap hit of $1.2 million. A sixth-rounder from the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, the 28-year-old Ottawa native has skated in 217 games scattered over six NHL seasons, all with the Senators.
Video: Two-Man Advantage | October 5
All Lined Up - Here's how we expect the Capitals and the Senators to look on Thursday night when they open up the 2017-18 NHL season:
8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 13-Vrana
65-Burakovsky, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
10-Connolly, 20-Eller, 39-Chiasson
91-Graovac, 83-Beagle, 25-Smith-Pelly
15-Smith, 7-Turris, 68-Hoffman
9-Ryan, 19-Brassard, 61-Stone
44-Pageau, 17-Thompson, 10-Pyatt
18-Dzingel, 21-Brown, 14-Burrows
65-Karlsson (foot, day-to-day)