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Vrana's first career OT goal gives Caps opening night win, Holtby has strong opener, Fehervary debuts, Ovechkin fires away, more

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps /

Get On The Good Foot - The Caps jumped out to a two-point start to the 2019-20 season on Wednesday night in St. Louis, coming from behind to earn a 3-2 overtime win over the defending Stanley Cup champs.

The battle between the last two Cup champs was all St. Louis early, as the Blues jumped out to a 2-0 lead early, scoring in the first minute of the game and reaching Washington goaltender Braden Holtby twice in their first three shots on net. But once the Caps found their legs and settled in, they played well and started chipping away at the Blues' advantage.

Washington weathered an early storm after the Blues' emotional banner-raising, then wore the champs down the rest of the way. Jakub Vrana won it for the Caps in overtime, enabling Washington to get out of town with two points.

"I think we knew what to expect," says Caps defenseman John Carlson, of facing a pumped up St. Louis squad. "This morning we were talking about how it feels like whether it was us or another team, we've been through a lot of these first games of the season after a team wins [the Cup].

"We knew they were going to come out really hard. We could have played a lot better, but I don't think we played terrible; they just had that little extra juice. They scored that first goal - a really nice goal, and it was really hard to get that one. But we've been through these kind of situations a lot, and none of us really thought we were out of it. So we went back to work and chipped away, and had to go a little extra."

Flying V - Vrana's overtime game-winner was the first of his NHL career. He becomes the 58th different player in Washington's franchise history to record a game-winner in the extra session.

Vrana and linemates Lars Eller and T.J. Oshie had a good game, combining for a goal and four points, and accounting for 12 of Washington's total of 34 shots on net.

In overtime, Blues goalie Jordan Binnington stopped and froze Vrana's one-timer from the high slot. Oshie won the ensuing face-off, Carlson put the puck on Vrana's blade, and the swift winger used a burst of speed to create the time and space he needed to get the shot off.

Video: WSH@STL: Vrana scores OT winner for Capitals

"I just tried to do what I can do best," says Vrana. "He made some saves, but the last one, he didn't. It was a long shift and we were tired a little bit, but I tried to use my skating, and once I got a little bit of speed that was just a quick snap shot, and it went through him. So yeah, I was happy for that one."

Hello, Wall - Holtby turned in a solid opening night performance, and his save on Ryan O'Reilly's backhander on a semi-breakaway with 1:36 left in regulation was critical in enabling the Caps to secure that first point, just ahead of overtime. He improves to 8-1-0 lifetime against the Blues.

The Caps got off to a sluggish start all around, and Holtby kept them within striking distance until they did strike.

"That's going to happen," says Caps coach Todd Reirden of the slow start. "For everybody involved, we got our legs a little bit. We liked the end of our first a little bit better, and that was the message between periods: 'That was their best, and now we need to keep pushing, and this is our opportunity to swing the game here,' and we were able to.

"We have an outstanding goaltender, and that's a huge save. It would have been a shame for us to miss out on any points after that half-breakaway opportunity there."

The Blues had a little flurry of activity around Holtby early in the second as they tried to restore their multi-goal cushion. They had some excellent early chances in the second and had a power play chance as well. Holtby kept them off the board, and the Caps defense then combined to hold St. Louis without a shot on net over a stretch of 13 minutes and 45 seconds in the middle period.

"Even that little stretch was due mainly to me turning the puck over," says Holtby. "They're a team that's a lot like us; they really search for quality. They don't waste too many shots. And we know what shuts that down is getting pucks in deep, playing that simple kind of road game, and not letting that extra play be there. And that forces a lot of turnovers in the offensive zone for them, and leads to our transition. We really started doing that, and it started turning the game in our favor."

Captain Marvel - Caps captain Alex Ovechkin scored the team's first goal of the season late in the first, halving that early St. Louis lead. He was a puck magnet all night long, pulling the trigger on 14 shots, getting five on net. Ovechkin had enough good chances to score more, but Blues goalie Jordan Binnington made a couple of good stops on him, and he caught a couple of his shots off the heel of the blade and didn't get them to go quite where he wanted to.

Video: Caps Postgame Locker Room | October 2

"I think our line played solid and had lots of chances," says Ovechkin. "I think every game is going to be better and better. I think I had pretty good chances to score today. I got one, but save it for next time."

Ovechkin has now scored in three consecutive season openers, and his goal was No. 659 of his NHL career. His 11 opening night tallies are tops among all active players. In league history, only Hall of Famers Michel Goulet and Dino Ciccarelli (14 each) have more opening night markers than Ovechkin.

Mr. October - Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov has made a habit of scoring in November. He has eight goals in the season's second month, tied for his highest total in any month; he has also scored eight goals in January. But until he scored on the power play midway through the second period, Orlov had never found the back of the net in October. He now has one October goal in 41 career games in that month.

Raw Power - Orlov's power-play goal was just the second of his 448-game NHL career; the first came on Jan. 23, 2017 in a 6-1 win over Carolina in Washington, and it was the first of two goals he scored that night.

Nick Jensen picked up the primary assist on Orlov's power-play goal in Wednesday's season opener, and it was the second power-play point of Jensen's 211-game NHL career. His first power-play helper came with the Red Wings, in a Nov. 15, 2017 game against Calgary.

Teen Dream - Caps defenseman Martin Fehervary made his NHL debut on Wednesday, becoming just the 10th Washington defenseman - and the first in six years - to debut in the league as a teenager. Fehervary acquitted himself well, skating 13:35, and finishing at plus-1 on the night.

"He's 19 years old, so it was pretty special to watch that go on," says Reirden of Fehervary's first game. "What was even better I think, was what went on in our room before the game and after the game involving him. We talk a lot about our culture, and just with him playing his first game, it's such a neat experience to go through and see how the guys took to him. And then at the end of the game, he wins our award, our team hard hat. Right now, it's a hard hat. It's a Washington Nationals batting helmet, so that's what we went with - very fitting right now. It will change during the year, but that's what we went with.

"It was great that Alex Ovechkin - he always delivers the first one - and he gave it to Marty today. That just shows how important it is for our guys to have contributions from everyone, whether it's a 19-year-old playing his first game, or guys who are getting further along in their career and still figuring out how to score goals, and did as well tonight. It's a fun group to be a part of and I think that our culture that we've established over the last five or six years is something special, and it differentiates us."

By The Numbers - Carlson led the Caps with 27:06 in ice time; Ovechkin led the forwards with 23:50 … Ovechkin, Vrana and Nicklas Backstrom led Washington with five shots on net each … Ovechkin led the way 16 shot attempts … Oshie and Tom Wilson had four hits each to lead the Caps … Jensen had two blocked shots to pace the Caps … Chandler Stephenson won six of 10 draws (60 percent).

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