Preview: Capitals at Blues
The two most recent Stanley Cup champions will take the ice on Wednesday as the St. Louis Blues hoist the championship banner prior to their game against the visiting Washington Capitals. The Blues will look for a fast start to the season in 2019-20 after slumping their way to the NHL's basement in January, only to complete a whirlwind six-month dash from worst to first by defeating Boston in seven games to capture the franchise's first Stanley Cup title.
"I think (the banner raising is) the last reflection before you start the journey again to the next one," reigning Conn Smythe and Selke Trophy recipient Ryan O'Reilly told NBC Sports. "... Once it's up, it's back to work to do it again. I'm excited for that. The best part of the journey is playing the game and being together as a group." St. Louis returns much of the same roster that had the hockey world collectively singing "Gloria," with goaltender Jordan Binnington out to prove that his Cinderella story won't hit midnight any time soon. The Blues will encounter a Capitals team that knows just how difficult it is to defend the title, as the latter's bid to follow in the footsteps of repeat champion Pittsburgh fell short following a first-round series loss to Carolina. "Every team's going to play against you a little bit differently because you're Stanley Cup champions and everybody wants to prove that they can beat the Stanley Cup champion when they have the chance to do that," three-time Hart Trophy recipient Alex Ovechkin told NBC Sports.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN
ABOUT THE CAPITALS (2018-19: 48-26-8, 1ST IN METROPOLITAN): Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and former Blue T.J. Oshie headline a Washington club that kept much of its potent offensive firepower in the fold, save for Brett Connolly (Florida) and to a lesser degree Andre Burakovsky (Colorado). The Capitals saw its most significant offseason change affect their back end, as Brooks Orpik retired and the club acquired burly Radko Gudas from Philadelphia for fellow defenseman Matt Niskanen. Perennial Norris Trophy contender John Carlson still anchors a solid defense in front of Braden Holtby, who has seen his season win total decline in each passing season since posting 48 victories during his Vezina Trophy campaign in 2015-16.
ABOUT THE BLUES (2018-19: 45-28-9, 3RD IN CENTRAL): St. Louis bolstered an already impressive defensive corps with the addition of Justin Faulk, acquiring the 27-year-old from the Hurricanes and signing him to a seven-year contract extension. The three-time All-Star joins captain Alex Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko, Jay Bouwmeester, Vince Dunn and Carl Gunnarsson along the back line in front of Binnington, who sported a 24-5-1 record with a 1.89 goals-against average and .927 save percentage en route to being named a Calder Trophy finalist. Vladimir Tarasenko eclipsed 30 goals for the fifth straight season with a club-best 33 tallies, while O'Reilly collected team-leading totals in both assists (49) and points (77) in his first season in the Gateway City.
1. Washington C Evengy Kuznetsov will begin a three-game suspension for "inappropriate conduct" after testing positive for cocaine at the world championships in May.
2. Blues LW Jaden Schwartz scored a goal and set up three others in Friday's preseason win over the Capitals.
3. Ovechkin has erupted for 30 points (17 goals, 13 assists) in 19 career games versus St. Louis.
PREDICTION: Capitals 4, Blues 2