The Washington Capitals had to pull off a quick transition from celebrating their Stanley Cup banner going up to playing a season opener. It was a good problem to have, but it turned out there was never anything to worry about.
The Capitals scored twice in the first two minutes of the new season and went on to embarrass the Boston Bruins 7-0 Wednesday night at Capital One Arena.
Evgeny Kuznetsov had two goals and Nicklas Backstrom recorded three assists for Washington. Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, John Carlson, Lars Eller and Nic Dowd also scored, and Braden Holtby added an assist to a 25-save shutout.
It was Holtby’s first regular-season shutout since April 5, 2017, and the franchise’s first seven-goal win since Nov. 1, 2013.
The Capitals (1-0-0) scored on each of their first four power plays and chased Boston goalie Tuukka Rask less than halfway into the game. Fans, seeing a dominant product on the rink, kept up their “back-to-back” cheers long after the Cup banner was raised and throughout the night.
It was impossible to diagnose any symptoms of a hangover.
“We harped on it just to make sure we were prepared mentally,” Carlson said. “We had enough adrenaline going with everything going on, and the fans were pretty crazy, too.”
“We just wanted to make this super special night even more special by coming out and winning,” Devante Smith-Pelly said. “I don’t think we expected to win like that, but it’s a good start.”
On the first shift of the game, mere minutes after the banner ceremony concluded, Backstrom found Oshie on a long pass across the offensive zone, and Oshie one-timed it from the very front of the left circle to score.
“I think in that moment you can kind of use it to your advantage,” Oshie said. “You’re sitting there on the ice getting pumped up for about 25 minutes from videos and chants and the crowd, and the other team’s just sitting there doing nothing in the locker room.”
The primary assist was Backstrom’s 800th career point. He is now only seven assists away from 600.
The next goal came one whole second into their first power play of the season. The Bruins won the faceoff in the Capitals’ zone, but it bounced toward the net and Rask tried to knock the puck out. Kuznetsov moved in and wristed it behind Rask’s back for a two-goal lead in 1:47 worth of action.
The night of firsts continued in the second period. Ovechkin’s first tally of the season re-familiarized everyone with his “office” in the left circle. Then the fourth line got in on the action, and Dowd, the team’s new center, scored his first goal as a Capital with a spin move and a backhander. He had three goals all of last season.
Kuznetsov’s second goal, which squeezed between Rask’s arm and the near pipe, was the last straw for the Bruins, who pulled the goalie less than 30 minutes into the game. Rask is now 1-11-5 against the Capitals in his career.
Carlson continued the Capitals’ dominant power play, particularly when shooting from the left circle. With the team enjoying 27 seconds of a 5-on-3 advantage, Carlson was the beneficiary of a bang-bang setup from Ovechkin and Backstrom and slapped home the fourth goal of the period.
In the third period, Eller found a seam up ice, caught a neutral-zone pass from Chandler Stephenson and split two defenders to score No. 7. Eller celebrated near the Boston bench on his way back to Washington’s, which later prompted Bruins bruiser Brad Marchand to pick a fight with Eller during play. Eller didn’t want to fight, but lost his helmet and took a few punches square to the head before Marchand was stopped and given a game misconduct.
“His celebration was unnecessary,” Marchand said later. “He took an angle in front of our bench and celebrated in a 7-0 game. So I just let him know.”
That aside, Wednesday will be remembered in Washington for all the right reasons, particularly for new Capitals coach Todd Reirden. Between the banner raising and the lopsided victory, it’s safe to say no one has made an NHL head coaching debut quite like Reirden did.
“To finally become a head coach in the National Hockey League, and in particular the Washington Capitals, is an honor and a privilege and something I won’t forget,” Reirden said. “It was really overwhelming with what happened to start the game and the emotion that was in our building. The fans were phenomenal. The whole setting of what happened with the banner and having the Cup there and how excited our guys were, it was amazing to be a part of that type event today.”
Washington will have a quick turnaround to carry this momentum to Pittsburgh Thursday night for the latter half of a back-to-back against the Penguins.