The Washington Capitals and the Vegas Golden Knights do not look substantially different from the teams that played in the Stanley Cup Final in June, but their rematch Wednesday still will include a few new characters.
Dmitrij Jaskin will make his Capitals debut Wednesday on the fourth line, coach Todd Reirden confirmed. Washington claimed Jaskin off waivers from the St. Louis Blues the day before the season began, but he hasn’t played in a game yet.
The Golden Knights added winger Max Pacioretty, center Paul Stastny and defenseman Nick Holden to the mix this offseason.
None of those players appeared in the Stanley Cup Final, which the Capitals won four games to one over Vegas, but the memories are still fresh to Alex Ovechkin and most of the others who will play Wednesday. Capitals coach Todd Reirden went as far to call Washington-Vegas a new rivalry.
“We know that we were the team that was able to end their season and they’re gonna be thinking about that,” Reirden said. “We know that they’re gonna be a motivated group and they’re gonna have a little bit extra on the line. … Through a five-game series, you develop a little bit of hatred for certain guys, so that’s always nice to get back into that sort of rivalry that we’ve developed with them now.”
Because the teams are constituted similarly enough, game tape of their playoff series is just as valuable as film from the beginning of the new season.
“It’s a mix of both. They’re a team that hasn’t changed a whole lot from last year,” Reirden said. “Obviously some different personnel, with changing out Pacioretty for (James) Neal and those type of things. Stastny’s there now. They’ve got a different look to them a little bit personnel-wise, but they’re such a hard-working team and they’re so fast and they pursue pucks from behind. So some of the strategy we were able to implement last year against them, we’ll continue to use this year.”
In an effort to put the emotions of last spring and summer behind him, Ovechkin said Tuesday that “last year is gone.”
“It’s history. Today’s a new year,” he said. “They lost a couple key guys, we lost a couple key guys, but I think this match gonna be really interesting. Lots of memories. It’s gonna be fun.”
“I haven’t really thought about it, to be honest with you,” Brooks Orpik added. “I saw a little bit of their game yesterday and just kind of refreshed on what to do. I’m sure it will be creeping in our minds a little bit more tomorrow.”
While the players might try to treat it like just another game, Capitals fans surely won’t see the Golden Knights as any old Western Conference opponent, now that their fates became intertwined last June. Select bars around Washington will be giving away T-shirts from Bud Light on Wednesday with “Let’s Go Caps” spelled out on the inside of the shirt — encouraging fans to pull it over their heads and drink beer through the shirt, a la T.J. Oshie at the Stanley Cup parade.
Amid all the celebration, it’s a strange time for Jaskin to join the gang. He had more screen time during last week’s banner-raising ceremony than Barry Trotz was given; now he will make his debut in a rematch of a Stanley Cup he didn’t play in. But the winger said he is ready to go.
“I think last few days have been helpful and I feel comfortable now,” Jaskin said, adding his new linemates have been helping him assimilate at practice.
Jaskin has “really good defensive structure in his game,” Reirden said, but the coach would like him to up his game on offense. Jaskin totaled just 17 points in 76 games for the Blues last year.
“I’d like to see him get involved and have the puck a little bit more and be able to create some off the rush,” Reirden said. “Some of the things I think made him a really high prospect when he was initially drafted have been a little bit taken out of his game.”
Wednesday will also be Michal Kempny’s season debut. Kempny suffered a concussion late in the preseason and missed the Capitals’ first two games, but the extra time off after that allowed him to heal up and be ready for the Vegas rematch.
“It was not good because I want to be part of the team and I couldn’t help my teammates,” the Czech blueliner said. “It was something where I had to deal with it and now I’m back and I’m really excited.”
The Golden Knights started the year 1-2-0, with their only win coming in a shootout against Minnesota last weekend. The Capitals are 1-0-1; after an opening-night blowout over Boston and an overtime loss the next night in Pittsburgh, they had a five-day break on the schedule.
The Capitals will travel to play the New Jersey Devils on Thursday less than 24 hours after the Vegas game begins, their second back-to-back in as many weeks.