Capitals aiming to regain fun feeling vs. Canadiens
WASHINGTON -- When the Washington Capitals host the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night, the teams will be hard-pressed to top the drama of their respective openers.
Newcomer Jonathan Drouin scored the only shootout goal in Montreal's 3-2 win at Buffalo, while Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov -- the stars of regulation -- scored in the shootout to give the Capitals a 5-4 win at Ottawa. Both teams trailed 2-1 after two periods.
Coming off a 33-goal season in which he only tallied 16 even-strength goals, the 32-year-old Ovechkin exploded for a hat trick in the third period. A bounce-back year from Ovechkin is crucial as Washington looks to make up the offense lost via the departures of forwards Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson.
"It's nice to get a (hat trick), but the most important thing, mentally, we need the win and we got it," Ovechkin told NHL.com after netting his 18th NHL regular-season hat trick. "I think our line felt the puck well tonight. We were moving it and had good communication and the result was there."
Linemate Kuznetsov assisted on all three Ovechkin goals and scored the shootout winner. The third member of the line, rookie Jakub Vrana, had two assists.
The Capitals will be playing meaningful hockey at the newly renamed Capital One Arena for the first time since May 10, when they lost to the Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins 2-0 in Game 7 of an Eastern Conference second-round playoff series.
It marked the second straight year in which a Presidents' Trophy-winning regular season ended early at the hands of the Penguins.
The Capitals open this season with lower expectations. The team struggled through training camp with coach Barry Trotz admitting they were still feeling the effects of May's disappointment.
"For whatever reason it was, we didn't have a of enthusiasm in training camp," defenseman Matt Niskanen told the Washington Post. "Maybe a fun win like this where it's a little bit higher scoring and we come from behind to tie it and win in a shootout, maybe it'll spark a little bit and kind of get everybody excited to come back to the rink again."
In Buffalo, Drouin capped a successful opening night.
"It's huge," he said. "It is important. For the team two points, but for me too, you've got to feel good about yourself and we definitely feel pretty good ourselves about winning."
The Canadiens are also coming off a disappointing postseason. After finishing first in the Atlantic Division, they fell in the first round of the playoffs to the New York Rangers. Montreal had just 11 goals in six games against the Rangers last year.
The Canadiens acquired Drouin from Tampa Bay in June, and the 22-year-old is expected to be a big part of the team's restructured offense.
On opening night, things ultimately went according to plan.
"We had a lot of chances, (Drouin) had a lot of chances. He was strong in his own end as well. It was a good start. There are some areas we want to get better. We did have a lot of chances to score and I think with chemistry we can bear down and be better with that," Max Pacioretty told NHL.com.
"But you like it for Game 1, but never be satisfied and always looking to get better."
Defenseman Karl Alzner, who spent nine seasons with the Capitals, returns to Washington after signing with Montreal.
Washington goalie Braden Holtby is 10-1-2 with a 1.62 goals-against average and two shutouts versus Montreal, while Carey Price is 6-11-4 with a 3.03 GAA and one shutout when facing the Capitals.
Ovechkin has 23 goals and 21 assists in 42 games against Montreal.
Capitals forward Nathan Walker is slated to be the first Australian player to dress in an NHL game.
Washington will be without forward Tom Wilson, who is serving a four-game suspension for boarding St. Louis Blues forward Sammy Blais in the preseason.
Updated October 6, 2017