Oates Capitals

Caps face challenge in new-look Metropolitan Division


Death, taxes and Washington dominating the Southeast Division.

While that wasn’t exactly a household mantra over the last six years, it did ring true. Washington captured five of the last six Southeast Division banners and, in doing so, was a perennial top-three seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs (the Caps finished third, second, first, first and third in years they won the division.)

Last season, Washington’s dominance of the Southeast was more valuable than ever. The strike-shortened season eliminated inter-conference play, meaning 18 of Washington’s 48 games came against the Lightning, Hurricanes, Panthers and Jets — none of whom made the playoffs.

In those 18 games, the Caps went 15-3-0. The only more successful team in-division was Chicago, who went 16-1-1 against the Central en route to winning the Stanley Cup.

“It’s been our saving grace this year,” goalie Braden Holtby told the Washington Post. “It’s been lucky that we’ve got to play those teams so much, but at the same time, we’ve done a good job with them and we haven’t taken a lot of those games lightly because we know how important they are.”

Heading into 2013-14, that saving grace is gone.

The Caps now find themselves in the new Metropolitan Division, an eight-team circuit featuring just one other ex-Southeast member (Carolina) and a host of new rivals: Columbus, New Jersey, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

It’s a dramatically different landscape. The Penguins, Rangers and Isles were all playoff teams from a year ago; Columbus fell just short in its push for a postseason berth; the Devils knocked off the Flyers en route to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final.

So, safe to say the Caps won’t be dining out on divisional opponents anymore.

“It’s a tougher division, much tougher,” defenseman Karl Alzner told the Washington Post. “It’s going to be probably a pretty good battle, and the nice thing about our division now is we’ve had the luxury of not having to be the best all the time and still get into a good position in the playoffs.

“That’s the way it works.”

Niemi blanks Pens, notches two assists in Stars debut

Antti Niemi, Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist

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.