Open up The Hockey News' NHL season preview edition and the Washington Capitals are the pick to win the Stanley Cup. The Washington Times even devoted its 10-page preview section looking ahead to the Capitals' pursuit of hockey's Holy Grail.
While a few players say they ignore that kind of hype, many others and coach Bruce Boudreau want those kind of expectations going into this year.
"If that's pressure, then so be it," Boudreau told The Times. "We'd rather embrace the pressure than fear the pressure."
The 82-game regular-season starts Saturday night against the Carolina Hurricanes at Verizon Center, and it's a marathon that needs to be completed before the real season starts for this team in the playoffs.
However, the eyes of many around hockey are fixed on the Caps now and will be through at least April.
"I like it. I'd rather be in this position than other teams where there is no expectation and they're just hoping," defenseman Mike Green said. "Bring the pressure on. We're ready for it, and we'll take the challenge."
The challenge is a sort of bull's-eye, knowing that opponents will again be gearing up to face Washington. The Caps will be challenged early, with games against the Lightning, Penguins and Flyers in the season's first two weeks.
"I think it's going to be fun, though," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "It's nice to get some really hard games out of the way, and you really get to see where your team is."
This burden of expectation goes beyond October and well after The Hockey News summer edition stops being available on newsstands. Yet, the vibe around this team seems to be that the more people talking about the Caps, the better.
"You can look at it two ways: 'Oh, people are putting pressure on you trying to win' or you can say, 'You know what, people are talking about this hockey team because they think they have the ability to win.' That's what we we feel," forward Brooks Laich said.
"You see how good these players are and you just say, 'The sky's the limit for this hockey team.' All of a sudden if this all comes together, it's going to be a very dangerous hockey team. Yeah, we like when people talk about our hockey team. It's something that's earned."
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