WASHINGTON — T.J. Oshie acknowledges now that maybe starting the “back-to-back!” chant at the Washington Capitals Stanley Cup parade was a little premature.
But Oshie couldn’t help getting excited hearing those chants again during the Capitals 7-0 win against the Boston Bruins in their season opener at Capital One Arena on Wednesday.
It was only one game, but Washington’s dominant performance no doubt garnered some attention around the NHL. The fans, who came to witness the raising of the Capitals first Stanley Cup banner before the game, are on board. So why not go along with them?
“I feel the excitement,” Oshie said. “I said it because I believe it. We got a lot of guys in here that not too long ago were raising the Stanley Cup above our head. Not a lot has changed. Obviously, tonight it’s Game One. …You don’t think you’re going to win 82, but the way we played, the way we stuck together, the way we battled, the way we backchecked, did the little things, that’s what got us the Stanley Cup last year and it seems like that’s still in our game right now.
“I believe it.”
Oshie helped set the early tone.
The banner had barely settled into the rafters before he beat Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask from low in the left circle 24 seconds into the game. It quickly become 2-0 when Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the first of his two power-play goals on the night at 1:47.
The Capitals scored four more times in the second period to make it 6-0. After Kuznetsov’s second power-play goal made it 5-0 at 7:28, Rask was pulled for Jaroslav Halak. John Carlson scored a 5-on-3 goal – the Capitals’ fourth power-play goal of the game — with 4:15 remaining in the second to make it 6-0, and Lars Eller scored a breakaway goal with 9:08 left in the third period to make it 7-0.
Capitals Goaltender Braden Holtby had a relatively easy night, making 25 saves for his 33rd career shutout.
The Capitals know not every game is going to be that easy, but were happy to get their season off to a good start.
“Every team is going to play against us harder and a little more intense,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who had a goal and an assist. “But you see how we played tonight. It was fun to play.”
Washington has reason to believe it can win again with most of its roster from last season intact. Of the 20 players who dressed for the Capitals clinching Game 5 win against the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final, the only ones not back are fourth-line center Jay Beagle (signed with Vancouver Canucks) and backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer (traded to Colorado Avalanche).
Washington’s biggest change was behind the bench with Todd Reirden being promoted from associate coach to replace Barry Trotz, who was hired by the New York Islanders after not being able to agree on a new contract with the Capitals. Reirden will have to look hard to find something to criticize from his first NHL win.
He had been concerned about how his team would start the game after the emotional pregame ceremony that featured Ovechkin skating out with the Stanley Cup in front of a screaming crowd. The Capitals closed out the Cup Final in Las Vegas, so this was the first chance they got to celebrate the championship on home ice with their fans.
To make sure they didn’t forget they had a game to play after the ceremony, Reirden challenged them in the locker room beforehand to make a strong opening statement.
“I said, ‘Somebody’s going to do it. Who’s it going to be in there?” Reirden said. “And I’m not surprised to see our leaders step up like they did. Throughout first five minutes of the game, they sent a strong message.”
No doubt the Pittsburgh Penguins, who host the Capitals at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; SN360, SN1, TVAS, ATTSN-PT, NBCSWA, NHL.TV), noticed.
Many in Washington would have preferred the Capitals to open the season against the Penguins, so their biggest rival could experience what the Capitals did when they were in Pittsburgh for the Penguins’ banner raising ceremony two years ago. But the Penguins will remember that the Capitals ended their three-peat bid last season by eliminating them in six games in the Eastern Conference Second Round, a little payback for Pittsburgh eliminating Washington in the second round the previous two seasons.
The last time the Capitals were in Pittsburgh, Kuznetsov scored 5:27 into overtime to give them a 2-1 victory in Game 6 and advance to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 1998. They’ll return as defending champions and feeling good about how they opened their title defense.
“We know it’s a long way and we know it’s going to be even harder this year,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “But maybe it came a little too easy for us tonight. Maybe, I don’t know. But it’s going to be a good challenge for us tomorrow against a great team that we have a big rivalry against.”
When asked if he thought the Penguins were watching Thursday, Backstrom said, “I’m not sure. I don’t care either.”