New Capitals radio voice John Walton refers to this as Christmas morning – the first game of the NHL season. Saturday night at 7, it all begins anew for the Caps, and even veterans admitted having some jitters.
“I think every player does,” Mike Knuble said.
With that in mind, here are three things to look for in the opener against the Hurricanes:
1. Short shifts
Nicklas Backstrom talked about how the tempo is usually so fast on opening night that keeping shifts short is vital. It’s particularly important for the Caps’ top line, given that Ovechkin just got back from Moscow on Friday. Having four reliable lines to roll should ease pressure on that Ovechkin-Backstrom-Knuble trio.
2. Michal Neuvirth
Like it or not, coach Bruce Boudreau has put the spotlight on Michal Neuvirth by starting him in the regular-season opener instead of Tomas Vokoun. If Neuvirth gets lit up, there will be second-guessing. If he shines, there will be the question of whether Neuvirth gets the nod again Monday vs. Tampa Bay, even after Vokoun was told he’d start then.
3. Third defensive pairing
Jeff Schultz is expected to skate with Dennis Wideman on the Caps’ third pairing. But Wideman did not take the skate Saturday (Boudreau insisted it was optional as always, even though Yom Kippur-observing Jeff Halpern was the only other player not to be out there) and had a maintenance day Thursday. It will be interesting to see if Wideman’s rhythm is disrupted by so much time off.