October 5 versus Columbus Blue Jackets at MCI Center
Time: 7:00 pm
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: WTNT 570 AM
Washington Capitals (2-4-2, preseason)
Columbus Blue Jackets (3-6-0, preseason)
The Washington Capitals open the long-awaited and much anticipated 2005-06 regular season on Wednesday night at MCI Center when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets at MCI Center. The game marks the NHL debuts of highly touted Capitals rookie Alex Ovechkin 18-year-old Blue Jackets' center Gilbert Brule, the team's first pick (sixth overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
The rebuilding Capitals will be busy from the start as Wednesday's game is the first of three in four nights and four in six days to open the campaign. Washington made final adjustments to its roster on Tuesday by sending defensemen Jakub Cutta, Mike Green and Lawrence Nycholat and right wing Miroslav Zalesak to its Hershey Bears farm club in the American Hockey League.
Cutta, Nycholat and Zalesak needed to clear waivers in order to be reassigned and all three did. It was not immediately clear whether Zalesak would accept the assignment to Hershey or choose to return to his native Slovakia, as his contract stipulates he may.
Washington also claimed goaltender Brent Johnson off waivers from the Vancouver Canucks and placed right wing Chris Clark on injured reserve. The Capitals had been planning on using Maxime Ouellet as Olie Kolzig's understudy in goal this season, but Ouellet's preseason goals against average (4.93) and save percentage (.835) may have given the team pause. Clark is nursing a rib injury and is listed as day-to-day.
Johnson appeared in three preseason games with the Canucks, posting a 1-1-1 record with a 2.92 GAA and a .904 save percentage. Johnson, the grandson of Hockey Hall of Famer Sid Abel, was originally drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in the fifth round of the 1995 NHL Entry Draft. He broke into the NHL with St. Louis in 1998-99 and took over as the Blues' No. 1 man in goal in 2001-02. Johnson gained fame in the spring of 2002 when he became the first goaltender in NHL history to record shutouts as his first three playoff wins. He tied NHL records by becoming the fourth goaltender ever to record three consecutive shutouts in a playoff series.
Lifetime, Johnson is 77-53-13 with a dozen shutouts, a 2.28 GAA and a .904 save percentage. He has a 5-6 mark in NHL playoff action with three shutouts, a 1.84 GAA and a .931 save percentage.
Ovechkin dazzled onlookers in the preseason, collecting four goals and seven points in just four games. He recorded a hat trick against Pittsburgh at MCI Center on Sept. 30. Jeff Halpern, the Capitals' new captain and Ovechkin's linemate, notched a hat trick the next night against Philadelphia. Halpern totaled five preseason goals, tied for sixth in the NHL in that category.
Veteran Washington center Andrew Cassels has been through more than a dozen opening nights in his NHL career, and he has faced off against one of his former teams on many occasions. But on Wednesday at MCI Center, Cassels will face off against the last NHL team he played with and will do so in a season opener. The crafty pivot spent the last two NHL seasons as a member of the Blue Jackets.
"I never actually played on opening night against a former team so that is going to be a little different," says Cassels. "Opening night is always a big night. It doesn't matter who you're playing, you want to play well and you want to get a win. Whenever you play your old team you want to beat them as many times as possible and [Wednesday] is no different."
Washington scored 18 goals and surrendered 37 - the highest total in the league - in its eight preseason games. The Caps connected on 19.4 percent of their preseason power play tries, seventh best in the NHL. Washington's penalty killing corps was the league's worst in the preseason; it killed off only 73.5 percent of the opposition's manpower advantage situations. Nearly half (18 of 37) of the goals Washington allowed during the preseason came on the power play.
Now opening their fifth season in the NHL, the Jackets are in pursuit of their first-ever playoff berth. With the offseason acquisitions of defensemen Adam Foote and Bryan Berard, the team believes it has positioned itself to compete for a postseason berth in the Western Conference.
The Blue Jackets also made one of the summer's head-scratching signings, bestowing a five-year deal worth $27.5 million upon third-year forward Rick Nash. That contract has raised the bar for similar players since and could well be a sticking point in Atlanta's ongoing efforts to get Ilya Kovalchuk's signature on a contract. Colorado's Milan Hejduk - a player with more NHL experience and a better track record than Nash - was resigned for a comparative bargain at $19 million for four years.
Nash is definitely one of the league's up-and-coming stars. The 21-year-old left wing netted 41 goals as an NHL sophomore in 2003-04, tying Kovalchuk and Calgary's Jarome Iginla for the league lead. Nash became the youngest player in NHL history to own a share of the league's goal scoring title.
Columbus suffered a scare early in its training camp when Nash suffered an ankle injury. He did not play in any preseason contests but has stated his desire to play in Washington on Wednesday.
The Blue Jackets came to terms with Brule just moments before Monday's 5 p.m. deadline for junior players to sign a pro contract or be returned to their CHL team. He will earn the league maximum $850,000 base salary on his three-year, entry-level deal. Brule also has the opportunity to earn as much as $425,000 in additional Schedule A bonuses. He had two goals and five points in six preseason games, tying for the team scoring lead with another highly regarded young player, right wing Nikolai Zherdev (five assists).
A series of injuries and a flu epidemic put Columbus' forward line combinations in a state of flux throughout training camp. Three of the team's top six forwards - Nash, Jan Hrdina and Todd Marchant - played in a combined total of just three preseason games.
The Blue Jackets claimed journeyman blueliner Andy Delmore off waivers from the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday. The 28-year-old Delmore spent 2004-05 playing for Mannheim in the German League. Delmore has played in 276 games for three different NHL teams.
With the NHL's new scheduling format now in place, Wednesday night's game will mark the Blue Jackets' lone appearance at MCI Center until 2008-09. Each NHL team now plays 72 of its 82 games within its own conference and 32 games within its own division.
The Blue Jackets scored 19 goals and allowed 36 in their nine preseason tilts. The Jackets sent backup goaltender Martin Prusek (0-1 in the preseason with a 7.74 GAA and a save. pct. of .826) to their Syracuse farm club in the AHL as one of the team's final cuts, opting to go with rookie Pascal Leclaire as the backup to starter Marc Denis.
The Jackets converted on just seven of 87 preseason power play chances, a conversion rate of 8 percent, third lowest in the league. Columbus was 24th in the NHL in preseason penalty killing with a kill rate of 80.2 percent.
Notes - The "F" in "F Street" stands for festive on Wednesday as the Caps celebrate opening night and welcome back fans with a street festival before the game. The festivities begin at 4:30 p.m. with a live Comcast SportsNet broadcast, the DC 101 promo van, interactive games, sponsor tables and giveaways. Several Capitals alumni will be on hand to sign autographs. The festival is free and open to the public ... Fans are encouraged to be in their seats by 6:45 to watch the Capitals' pre-game show. All fans in attendance will receive a Capitals magnetic schedule and a miniature Stanley Cup.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Defenseman Rostisalv Klesla has a stress fracture in his lower right leg and is out for two weeks.
Defenseman Duvie Westcott has a finger injury and is day-to-day.
Center Jan Hrdina has a bruised knee and is day-to-day.
Center Todd Marchant has a groin injury and is day-to-day.
Defenseman Ivan Majesky is week-to-week with a knee injury.
Right wing Chris Clark is day-to-day with a rib injury.
Fun Fact: Former Capital Peter Bondra holds the franchise record with 19 hat tricks. He recorded his last hat trick as a Capital the last time the Caps and Blue Jackets met, on Nov. 29, 2003 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus.
Short Shifts: Andrew Cassels has one goal and six points in five career games against Columbus ... Jeff Friesen has two goals and six points in 11 career games against the Jackets ... Jeff Halpern has one goal and five points in four career games against the Blue Jackets ... Olie Kolzig is 3-1-0 with a 2.76 goals against average lifetime against Columbus ... Brian Sutherby's most recent NHL goal came against Columbus on 11/29/03 ... Marc Denis is 1-3-1 lifetime against the Caps ... Rick Nash has two goals and two points in three lifetime contests against the Capitals ... David Vyborny has two goals and four points in six career games against Washington.
Possible Line combos and defensive pairings
61-Nash, 38-Hrdina, 9-Vyborny
40-Balastik, 26-Marchant, 13-Zherdev
49-Fritsche, 27-Malhotra, 10-Letowski
45-Shelley, 17-Brule, 28-Wright
8-Ovechkin, 9-Zubrus, 11-Halpern
12-Friesen, 25-Cassels, 20-Sykora
27-Clymer, 15-Gordon, 10-Bradley
18-Pettinger, 16-Sutherby, 51-Peat
33-Ouellet, 1-Johnson, 37-Kolzig