The Top 5 'Must-See' Games on the Washington Capitals' 2014-15 Schedule
Every year, coaches and players mentally highlight a handful of games on the regular-season schedule that they see as critical tilts, despite knowing that these select games are each worth two points just like any other.
Sometimes it's due to a bitter rivalry created due to geographic proximity or postseason history, such as the long-standing distaste the Capitals and Penguins hold for one another. In other cases, if a beloved player has recently departed one team for another via free agency or trade, both sides are typically gunning to prove that they got the better end of the bargain.
Regardless of the reason, there's no shortage of must-see clashes on tap for the Capitals in 2014-15, so here's an early look at the games that have to be circled on every team schedule in Washington.
For a full look at Washington's 2014-15 schedule, head to the team's official website.
Saturday, December 27th, 2014 at Pittsburgh
It should be enough that these two teams have hated each other because of the collection of bruising playoff battles over the past three decades, but when it comes to the Caps and Penguins, that's only the beginning.
That's because the teams involved also play home to arguably the game's greatest individual rivalry in recent memory, as Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby will forever be linked to one another.
Sure, Crosby's teams have enjoyed much more success than those of the Russian superstar in D.C., but Ovechkin's armful of Hart Trophies and personal accolades keep things interesting between the two generational talents.
Oh, and seeing as this game will mark the first trip back to Pittsburgh for recent signings Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, you know emotions will be running high on both benches.
Thursday, October 9, 2014 vs. Montreal
It's often a cliche to say that the opening game of the season is a must-win, but when it's the first game under a new coach and general manager, there's no overstating the importance of how the Capitals come out against Montreal on October 9.
To add even more intrigue, it's at home against a Canadiens squad coming off a stunning run to the Conference Finals in 2014 and figures to be among the better teams in the Eastern Conference this season.
And, for those who have forgotten, this is the same franchise that knocked off the top-seeded Capitals in Round 1 of the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs on the same sheet of ice they'll be skating on in just over a month.
Oh, and Rene Bourque still plays for the Habs, so while Nicklas Backstrom will likely try to avoid him, the grinders won't pass up finishing their checks on the former Calgary Flames winger. That's usually the case when a player's track record includes leaving a superstar concussed and out for a long period of time.
Sunday, February 1, 2015 vs. St. Louis
At this point, it would almost feel strange if the Caps weren't playing on February 1st, as this will be the seventh consecutive time the team has hosted a matinee affair on Super Bowl Sunday.
Last season, we saw Ovechkin lift the Caps to a thrilling 6-5 overtime win over Detroit on home ice, which brought Washington to 15-6-1 at home on the same date as the NFL's title game.
This year, the Blues will be headed to the Verizon Center, and while it's not a clash of rivals, there's a lot to like about this tilt.
In St. Louis, the Caps will be facing a Western Conference heavyweight that's only improved, as All-Star pivot and two-time U.S. Olympian Paul Stastny's now in the fold.
Trotz has a wealth of experience taking on Alex Pietrangelo, David Backes, T.J. Oshie and the rest of Ken Hitchcock's balanced lineup from his time with former division rival Nashville, but it's not as if the Caps struggled against them last season, winning both of the meetings 4-1.
It won't be as hyped as the 2010 Super Bowl Sunday bout with the Penguins in D.C., in which Ovechkin notched a hat trick to lead the home team to an overtime victory, but the game still features two quality teams with no shortage of star players on a national stage.
And in case that wasn't enough, at this point in the season, there's a solid chance these two points will mean quite a bit to the Caps.
Friday, January 16, 2015 at Nashville
Considering this is a game between two teams that have only shared a conference for one season thus far, there's a lot to look forward to in the Caps' away showdown with the Predators on January 16.
For starters, it'll be the first trip back to Nashville for Trotz, who called Bridgestone Arena his home rink for 15 seasons, as well as his first meeting with the Predators since parting ways with the team earlier this year.
Beyond that, Caps fans will hope to avoid seeing former No. 11 overall pick Filip Forsberg do damage against the team that drafted him just two years ago, as the trade that sent him to Nashville in exchange for Marty Erat and Michael Latta stings to this day.
And for the Caps, there's bound to be some bad blood lingering after veteran pugilist Rich Clune pummeled inexperienced rookie defenseman Patrick Wey during their last visit.
Thursday, January 1, 2015 vs. Chicago
As if there was any question as to what would be No. 1 on this list.
It was a special evening for the Capitals when they went into Heinz Field and knocked off the Penguins in 2011, but getting the opportunity to host the Winter Classic in Washington is an indication of how much the game has grown in the D.C. area over the last decade.
The Blackhawks weren't the obvious choice to take on Ovechkin and company outdoors, but from a hockey standpoint, it's got the potential to be the most entertaining Winter Classic yet.
Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp headline one of the league's deepest and most star-studded rosters, so there will be no shortage of firepower on display.
With two Stanley Cups in the last five years, Chicago is firmly established as one of the league's powerhouses, and a win on home soil with the hockey world watching would be a huge boost to Washington's confidence heading into the push for the postseason.