Ceremony - Before tonight's season opener, the Blues will raise their franchise's first Stanley Cup banner to the rafters at Enterprise Center, just as the Caps themselves did at Capital One Arena, a year ago on Thursday.
Washington came out all hopped up after its ceremony on Oct. 3 of last year, and it rolled to a 7-0 stomping of the Boston Bruins. Tonight, the Caps will be on the other side of that organic momentum the Blues will get from what is certain to be an emotionally stirring ceremony.
But it won't be unfamiliar territory for the Caps. In addition to their own banner raising last fall, the Caps have been on hand to watch the Blackhawks (in 2013) and the Penguins (in 2016) do it earlier in this decade. Washington knows what it needs to do.
"I think weather the storm," says Washington winger Carl Hagelin. "You know they are going to come out hot, but we should too. It's the start of the season, and we should all be excited. So for us, it shouldn't be hard for us to get up and have that jump in our step to start out. I think it's a harder game for them to play than for us, so we've got to take advantage of that, and come out flying, and put pressure on them for 60 minutes."
"I think it's a motivational factor for individuals and for the team to beat last year's winners," says Caps center Lars Eller. "They set the bar right there. That alone should be plenty of motivation for you to go into a game. That's the ideal scenario, if you ask me."
One of the toughest parts of the night from Washington's standpoint is the lengthened period of time from the end of pregame warm-ups to the actual puck drop for the opening face-off.
"You kind of do it at different times throughout the year," says Caps goalie Braden Holtby, "be it certain ceremonies or whatever. All you've got to do, you've got to make sure you keep the energy up in the room. You change your routine a bit. That's kind of why you have that base right before you go on the ice, so you feel ready to play.
Video: Braden Holtby Pregame | October 2
"The biggest thing for a road team coming into these games is making sure you simplify, because you know that they're going to have a lot of energy and are going to want to push the limits a lot. And if you're simple and patient, you can expose that, and I think that's one of the things we're going to have to focus on."
Teenage Kicks - Caps defenseman Martin Fehervary will make his NHL debut tonight, days ahead of his 20th birthday. He becomes just the 10th Washington defenseman to suit up as a teenager, and the first since Connor Carrick made his NHL debut as a 19-year-old on opening night of the 2013-14 season. Carrick also did so against the defending champs; the Caps were in Chicago that night for the raising of the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup banner on Oct. 1, 2013.
Interestingly, Fehervary is the only one of the six Caps defensemen in the lineup tonight to make his NHL debut on opening night; each of the other five was a midseason call-up.
Washington's second-round pick (46th overall) in the 2018 NHL Draft, Fehervary made the opening night roster in his second training camp with the Caps.
"Yeah wow, I'm super excited," exuded Fehervary just before the Caps departed for St. Louis on Tuesday. "I can't really explain my feelings right now. I'm super excited for [Wednesday]. We'll see what happens. I made the team today, I'm going to St. Louis, we'll see what happens tomorrow. But today, I'm super excited."
Upon arrival in St. Louis, Caps coach Todd Reirden took Fehervary aside and let him know he had not only made the team, but he would also be making his debut against the Blues.
"That's one of the more enjoyable parts of the job," says Reirden, "is when a guy plays his first game and not to jinx it - I usually don't talk too much about it until after the game - but for me, I just wanted to let him know yesterday. We got into the hotel, and I just grabbed him and wanted to let him know, 'You understand that you're playing [Wednesday].' And he was like, 'That's what I thought,' so he is obviously an unassuming kid.
"He really works hard, extremely hard, and he is a great skater. That was a fun conversation to have, and regardless of how the game goes for him tonight, it's a great accomplishment. For anyone to play a game in the NHL is remarkable, and I'm looking forward to watching him play tonight and then shaking his hand after he has accomplished a lifelong dream."
Fehervary will be paired with Radko Gudas, who will be making his debut in a Washington sweater after being obtained in a trade with Philadelphia in June.
"He is a great guy," says Gudas of his young partner. "He worked his bag off all summer; you can tell the way he performed in the camp. He deserves every second he is going to be out there, and I'm telling him to enjoy every shift, every second he is out there, and believe in himself. That's the only way he can be better and better every day."
Video: Rinkside Update | Radko Gudas
Tougher Than The Rest - In addition to opening against the defending champs, Washington will start the season with three games in four nights and will play each of their first eight games against teams that made the playoffs last season. The Caps believe they're up to the challenge.
"I think as a team, early on in the year you can't look too far ahead," says Hagelin. "You know it's going to be a tough first month for sure, the first week especially, but we're coming into St. Louis and trying to get two points here and hopefully build off that, just take them one game at a time. They're all tough; let's be honest."
Washington will also play nine of its first 14 games on the road, and it will spend 17 and a half days on the road in October.
"I think it's fine," says Caps right wing T.J. Oshie. "You're going to play 82 [games] no matter what. This is the time of the year where everyone should be 100 percent healthy for the most part, so I think it will be good for us to get right back into the swing of things quickly.
"Four of five games in, we might feel a little tired, but it's better to feel that way now and get used to it quicker, because there is always an adjustment period from the preseason to the regular season. So the quicker we can adjust, hopefully that's two or four or six points that we can make a leap on, just because we're ready to go a little bit earlier than the teams that have an easier schedule the first couple of weeks."
In The Nets - Holtby draws his eighth straight starting assignment on Wednesday in St. Louis, a franchise record for goaltenders. Holtby and the Caps also learned that last season's backup goaltender Pheonix Copley was placed on waivers on Wednesday. Copley went 16-7-3 with a 2.90 GAA and a .905 save pct. in his first full NHL season in 2018-19, and he played well in training camp and preseason, too. Unfortunately for him, the Caps are in a crunch in regards to the salary cap, and with Holtby set to become an unrestricted free agent next July, it is imperative that Washington gets rookie Ilya Samsonov some NHL action this season, so it can make a reasoned and informed decision on how to proceed with its goaltending situation beyond the current campaign.
"It was a really difficult decision for us organizationally," says Reirden. "To have to put Copley on waivers was something that organizationally was the right thing for our team to do, and with where we're at in today's [salary] cap world, it was a tough one. Especially with his work ethic, who he is as a person, how good he is in our locker room, it was a real tough day [Tuesday] to inform him he wasn't going to be coming on this trip, and then ultimately putting him on waivers."
Washington will learn at noon on Thursday whether another NHL team has made a claim on Copley, who is in the first year of a three-year contract that carries a cap hit of $1.1 million annually. If he is not claimed, the Caps would assign him to AHL Hershey.
"Obviously it's tough," says Holtby of the move. "We had a pretty good working relationship. But it doesn't mean it's over. Obviously there are other things involved in the cap era, and I think he knows that. If he goes down and plays like he can, you never know what happens in this time.
Video: Two-Man Advantage | October 2
"I think we have a pretty good group of goaltenders throughout our whole system, so we are all pretty comfortable together to win games.
Reirden went on to say that the 22-year-old Samsonov, the Caps' first pick (22nd overall) in the 2015 NHL Draft, will likely make his NHL debut on Friday night against the New York Islanders in the second game of the Caps' season-opening two-game road trip.
Holtby has had success over the course of his career against the Blues, owning a 7-1-0 record, a 2.36 GAA and a .925 save pct. in eight career appearances.
For St. Louis, Jordan Binnington gets the net for tonight's season opener. Binnington's play was crucial in the Blues' last-to-champs run from January to June of this year. He made his first NHL start on Jan. 7 and essentially took the reins as the team's No.1 netminder the rest of the way, never losing consecutive starts over the remainder of the regular season while rolling up a 24-5-1 mark, five shutouts, a league-leading 1.89 GAA and a .927 save pct.
Although he was drafted in 2011, Binnington didn't start his first career preseason game until this fall, earning the rare distinction of winning 16 Stanley Cup playoff games and hoisting the Cup before finally getting his first exhibition start against the Caps this fall.
All Lined Up - This is how we expect the Caps and the Blues to look when they meet on Wednesday night in St. Louis for the regular season opener for both sides:
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 43-Wilson
13-Vrana, 20-Eller, 77-Oshie
62-Hagelin, 18-Stephenson, 14-Panik
28-Leipsic, 26-Dowd, 21-Hathaway
6-Kempny (lower body)
17-Schwartz, 10-Schenn, 91-Tarasenko
9-Blais, 90-O'Reilly, 57-Perron
15-Fabbri, 21-Bozak, 18-Thomas
49-Barbashev, 70-Sundqvist, 20-Steen