Montreal Canadiens v Washington Capitals

Capitals’ two-week gut check begins tonight


Many people in the hockey world have already made their minds up about the Washington Capitals – most likely in a bad way. Still, for those who are giving the struggling squad the benefit of the doubt, the next two weeks should provide a succinct answer.

Everything about their season would say that they’ll shrink from the challenge ahead, but that’s the fun thing about sports – if they flourish, they could very well be a dangerous eighth seed or even a surprise division winner. Here’s a game-by-game look at a trying and fascinating stretch.

Tonight: vs. Tampa Bay – The Lightning have been hot lately, but with Mathieu Garon on the mend, the Caps need to squash those upstarts.

Saturday: at Boston – An afternoon road game against the defending champs won’t be easy even with the Bruins being a little off.

Sunday: vs. Toronto – The last home game of this stretch comes against the only team that might be more desperate than them.

March 13: at Islanders – Washington better not take the Isles lightly – this could be a “trap game” considering the rest of the schedule.

March 16: at Winnipeg – The Jets are currently two points ahead of the Capitals and Washington’s game in hand advantage has dropped to one paltry contest. Winnipeg’s 21-10-4 at home so, yeah, this should be a big test.

March 18: at Chicago; March 19: at Detroit – The third and fourth road contests take the Capitals through two dangerous Central Division teams in back-to-back games. Normally getting two points out of that duo would be acceptable, but Washington will likely hope for more.

March 22: at Philadelphia – The tough two-week run ends against a bitter foe of the Capitals.


To review, this stretch includes three contests against teams at or around their playoff position, four matches against surefire playoff squads and a potential trap game against those meddlesome Islanders. Six of their eight games are on the road, which is the most interesting part since Washington is a pathetic 11-18-3 away from the Verizon Center.

If they can weather this two-week storm, they’ll be in great shape with four out of five home games and five contests in Washington vs. three road matches overall. With all that in mind, share your thoughts: will the Capitals flip the script and actually respond to the challenge or will this challenging run be their predictable undoing?

Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist
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DALLAS (AP) — Antti Niemi recorded his 33rd career shutout and assisted on two goals in his Dallas debut, as the Stars beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0 on Thursday night in the season opener for both.

Ales Hemsky had a power-play goal and an assist.

Rookie Matthias Janmark scored on his first shot on his first shift in an NHL game to make it 1-0. The Stars acquired Niemi and Janmark in trades earlier this year.

Dallas scored on two of five power plays. Jamie Benn, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, had a power-play goal in the third period.

Niemi made 37 saves to improve his career record against the Penguins to 5-1-1. He withstood a flurry in the final minute after Pittsburgh pulled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for an extra skater.

Fleury had 21 saves.

The Stars are 4-0-1 in their last five home games against Pittsburgh, and have won three in a row overall.

Janmark skated down the slot, took a pass from Hemsky and shot between Fleury’s legs at 1:39 of the first.

The Penguins dominated the latter half of the period, but couldn’t score. Niemi’s best stop was a reaching glove save of Rod Scuderi’s drive from the blue line with less than 3 minutes remaining. Pittsburgh outshot the Stars 10-4 in the first.

Hemsky scored at 5:42 of the second on Dallas’ first power play. His shot from the top of the right faceoff circle went in over Fleury’s right shoulder.

The Penguins again had an advantage in shots, 13-11. Pittsburgh had chances in close, but Niemi turned those away. Midway through the second, John Klingberg cleared away a loose puck from in front of the net.

Seven seconds into the Stars’ fourth power play of the third period, Jamie Benn tipped in Jason Spezza‘s shot from the right point.

NOTES: Dallas acquired Janmark as part of a March trade that sent Erik Cole to Detroit. The rookie had been playing in the Swedish Hockey League. . San Jose traded Niemi’s rights to the Stars in June for a seventh-round draft pick. Also making their Dallas debuts were LW Patrick Sharp and D Johnny Oduya, teammates with Chicago’s Stanley Cup champions last season. . In his first game for the Penguins, Phil Kessel played in his 447th straight game. . Pittsburgh was 0 for 3 on the power play.

Fabbri’s first spoils McDavid’s debut as Blues down Oilers

Robby Fabbri, Justin Schultz
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Rookie Robby Fabbri scored the tiebreaking goal midway through the third period to help the St. Louis Blues beat Edmonton 3-1 Thursday night, spoiling Oilers rookie Connor McDavid‘s NHL debut.

Vladimir Tarasenko had the tying goal for the Blues near the midpoint of the second period, and Troy Brouwer added an empty-netter with 18 seconds remaining in the third. Brian Elliott finished with 23 saves.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in the first period for Edmonton and Cam Talbot had 28 saves.

McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, took 22 shifts, played 18:07 and was on the ice for Brouwer’s goal. He had two shots on goal, and struggled on faceoffs – winning only three of 13.

Fabbri, a 19-year-old forward — and McDavid’s childhood friend — was also playing in his first NHL game. The Blues’ first-round pick in 2014 was one of three rookies in the St. Louis lineup, joining defensemen Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson.

Nugent-Hopkins gave the Oilers a 1-0 lead late in the first period with a fluke power-play goal. He lost a face-off but when Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo tried to clear the puck it bounced off Alexander Steen and past Brian Elliott. Nugent-Hopkins was credited with the unassisted power-play goal with 2:38 remaining in the period.

Tarasenko tied it a 9:10 of the second after getting loose on a breakaway with a stretch pass from Alex Pietrangelo and beating Talbot through his legs.

Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60 million extension in the offseason, was the last Blues player to score in his debut.

NOTES: McDavid and F Anton Slepyshev made their NHL debuts for the Oilers. … St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina dropped the ceremonial first puck. … The attendance was announced as standing room-only 19,327.