ST. LOUIS – The St. Louis Blues will open their season by hosting the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night and raising their first Stanley Cup banner.
They are determined not to let the first championship in franchise history be a one-off event.
“I want to be known as a winner,” Blues center Ryan O’Reilly told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I want to win that Cup again, and I don’t think once is good enough. I’ve obviously been through so many seasons that didn’t go well. And then you get a taste of what it’s like and how fun it is.”
The Blues return the bulk of their championship team, losing only winger Pat Maroon to the Tampa Bay Lightning via free agency and swapping defenseman Joel Edmundson to the Carolina Hurricanes for defenseman Justin Faulk.
They got through their preseason without incurring any injuries. Top forward prospect Jordan Kyrou is still recovering from offseason knee surgery and will head to San Antonio of the AHL when he is cleared to play.
Forwards Sammy Blais, Robby Fabbri and Zach Sanford are competing for two open spots in the Blues’ lineup — one on a line with O’Reilly and David Perron and one with the Tyler Bozak/Robert Thomas tandem.
The fourth line of Oskar Sundqvist centering Ivan Barbashev and Alexander Steen returns to set the team’s tempo.
“As we started winning, you could tell the attitude and the general joy of coming to the rink and playing together was just enhanced all the time,” Steen said. “So we just wanted to keep that going. I think that’s where the hunger is. And once you’ve had it once, you want it again. It’s pretty addictive.”
Last year at this time the Capitals raised their own banner after winning the Cup. Now they want to get back into the championship hunt after losing their first-round playoff series to the Carolina Hurricanes in the spring.
“I think with the age of our team, every year is a sense of urgency in my mind,” general manager Brian MacLellan told the Washington Post. “It took us a while to get to the point where we did win a championship, and I don’t know how long our window is here. We’re getting a little older, but we also have some good young guys coming up, so I think we can continue to compete at a high level.”
The Capitals are dealing with the three-game NHL suspension to scoring-line center Evgeny Kuznetsov for recreational substance abuse.
Defenseman Michal Kempny remains sidelined with a lingering hamstring issue. Defenseman Christian Djoos became salary cap casualty and landed on waivers.
Newcomer Radko Gudas could land next to Dmitry Orlov in the shutdown defensive pairing after arriving from the Philadelphia Flyers in a trade for defenseman Matt Niskanen.
But the core group that won Washington’s first Cup remains intact.
“It is fun to kind of go out and feel like you have to prove something again,” Capitals forward T.J. Oshie told the Post. “You know, before you were kind of on top and you are trying to stay there and just maintain it, and now we have to get better and improve on last year, so it is a different feeling coming in this year, and I think it will be good for us.”
–Field Level Media