For me, it doesn’t get much better than those Caps throwback sweaters

Puck Drop: 7:05 p.m. CST (with the banner, folks are saying 7:28 p.m.)

Where You Can Find It: NBC Sports Network (174 on Comcast, DirecTV 220, 1640 AT&T U-Verse)

Beat Writers & Bloggers for the Opposition: @kcarrera, @WashTimesMike, @russianmachine, @JapersRink

If Time on Ice gets itself together, I’ll post the CORSI/Fenwick link at game time.

You made it! We ALL made it!

With the lockout extending last season late into the summer our wait wasn’t quite as long this summer as previously, but I’m just as ready as the rest of you for hockey season to begin. Tonight on West Madison Street the Chicago Blackhawks will put 2013’s abbreviated campaign behind them by raising four new banners to the rafters before taking on the Washington Capitals. It’ll be a sweet taste of euphoria that reminds us just how high the highs can be in the NHL, but as I’m sure the players will relay to each other, that feeling must be short lived in order to focus on the task at hand. That task, being the 2013-14 NHL season.

The Capitals no longer reside in the NASCAR division, or the Southleast as it was also referred to. Instead, they’ve made the move to the Metropolitan division which I’m sure comes complete with $9 beers, Appletinis and shoes that cost more than my apartment. Other than that realignment move, there’s actually not a whole lot different with the Caps this year than there was last season. The only major addition to this team is 2nd line center Mikhail Grabovski. He was jettisoned by the Maple Leafs in a buyout they’ll likely regret and should be a possession pusher for the Capitals this season. His $3M cap hit is quite the bargain as well. Instead of trying to shoehorn Brooks Laich into that role, the Caps have a player who is better suited for top six minutes which will allow Laich to take the role of 3rd line checking center or play on Grabo’s wing. Both of those roles suit Laich much better than playing the pivot in a top six.

Where the Capitals saw the most action was on the departure side of the ledger. Mike Ribeiro, Matt Hendricks, Wojtek Wolski, Joey Crabb, Jeff Schultz, Tom Poti and Mathieu Perreault all find themselves in different sweaters this year. The loss of Ribeiro will be lamented the most, but to be honest, I’m not sure how many of these players will really make a tangible difference to this year’s Capitals squad. Ribeiro will be missed on the powerplay, especially by Alex Ovechkin. Other than that, I think the loss of those players is negligible.

When you look at last year, it’s quite easy to see where the matchup between these two teams would pivot on. The Capitals had one of the worst penalty kills in hockey last year ranking 27th in the league.  In fact, they were 29th among NHL teams in shots allowed on the kill. As we’ve been conditioned over the past couple of years while watching the Blackhawks, the more shots directed towards the opponent’s net, the better. Whether that comes at even strength or while on the man advantage. However, the Blackhawks were one the worst teams in the league on the man advantage last year and blah blah blah clown shoes power play blah blah blah. The special teams in tonight’s game will be a point of emphasis. With it being the first game of a new campaign, you can bet on some sloppy penalties simply from players not having their legs underneath them quite yet.

The forward depth, having been bolstered by the acquisition of Grabovski, is a strength for the Capitals this year. The blue line is another story. Fine young American John Carlson along with Karl Alzner and American Crew Spokesman Mike Green are three defencemen you’d have no problem building your top two pairings around. The problem is, who is the fourth player in that group? It seems like I’ve seen Russian Machine Never Breaks tweeting about Dmitry Orlov for years, but the Capitals just aren’t quite confident in him enough yet to let him pair with Carlson. John Erksine and Jack Hillen are the other options there with the veteran Erskine likely seeing the most minutes among them. The Capitals have a top heavy defence, which makes depth scoring and bottom six play paramount when facing them. Brandon Saad is going to get his opportunities to take advantage of subpar competition tonight. We’ll get a good look at just how apt our third line is at converting on those chances.

Now, I have a bit of a confession to make. [stands up] Hi, my name is [redacted] and I am a HUGE Alex Ovechkin fan. The mostly style and not enough substance play of Ovie has marveled me ever since he came into the league. It’s odd because normally I’m a straight and narrow type when it comes to watching hockey. Ovechkin, for some reason, allows me to leave my objective hockey watching chamber and just enjoy a player with more skill in his left pinky than the Hawks might have on their entire fourth line. Ovechkin’s passion for the game is what does it for me. That, and the ability to sink shots like this one from a few years ago. Steven Stamkos be damned, I’ll take Ovechkin’s howitzer of a stick eight days a week. Every time #8 in white touches the puck tonight, I’ll get up off the couch. I also have yellow laces on my own skates. Feel free to make fun of me all season long for this. I deserve it.

Per Katie Carrera of the Washington Post, here’s what you can expect Adam Oates to send out tonight in the form of lines and pairings:

Johansson-Backstrom-Ovechkin
Laich-Grabovski-Brouwer
Chimera-Fehr-Ward
Erat-Latta-Wilson

Alzner-Green
Erskine-Carlson
Hillen-Carrick

A couple notes on these. Brooks Laich is battling a groin injury but he’s going to play through it. Steve Oleksy was an extra in morning skate. If this game were on local TV instead of national, Pat and Eddie would remind you that Connor Carrick is from Orland Park roughly 497 times… and that’s just in the first period.

In the home red sweaters tonight, you’re going to see an awful lot of familiar faces. Other than Jimmy Hayes and camp standout Joakim Nordstrom, the Blackhawks are going to be sending out virtually the same crew you saw in the playoffs and much of the regular season. However, with Brandon Pirri and Jeremy Morin being sent back to Rockford, that means the face-puncher role will once again be (unnecessarily) occupied in the form of unofficial team ambassador and sideshow Brandon Bollig.

You watched this team for six months last season. There’s not a whole lot I can tell you that you don’t already know. So instead, I’m just going to encourage you to enjoy the ceremony and everything the Blackhawks will do in the form of pomp and circumstance before the puck is dropped. Winning one Stanley Cup is hard. Winning two in four years in exponentially more difficult. Take it in, tonight. Soak up those four banners they raise to the rafters. If there’s one thing I know John McDonough does well, it’s ceremonies. I expect no different tonight.

We’re through the summer and it is indeed October again. Time to get this dynasty rolling. Yes, I said the d-word.

Let’s Go Hawks.