The Capitals’ trio of rookies will be in the lineup Tuesday night as they kick off the season against the defending Stanley Cup Champions in Chicago. Connor Carrick will suit up on the third defensive pairing alongside Jack Hillen, while Michael Latta and Tom Wilson will play on the fourth line with Martin Erat.
It’s the first time since 2003-04 that the Capitals will have two teenagers – Carrick and Wilson — in their opening night lineup, according to Elias Sports Bureau. That season, Boyd Gordon and Steve Eminger were the youngsters jumping in to the NHL fray.
“I think it keeps everything fresh and it makes the older guys hungry,” Joel Ward said of the youthful injection. “With young guys coming in, working hard, you know that you’ve got to step up your game and show a good example of what it’s like to play in this league. They’ve done a good job. We’re definitely going to embrace them and we know that they’re going to help us. That’s the key.”
Wilson appeared in three playoff games last spring but will be making his NHL regular season debut. Meanwhile, Carrick and Latta will both suit up in an NHL contest for the first time in their careers.
Carrick grew up 25 miles southwest of Chicago in Orland Park, Ill. He played at United Center Saturday night in the preseason finale, but to make his NHL debut here in front of friends and family will be an incredible experience. He managed to scrounge up 10 tickets for tonight’s contest but admitted, “I don’t think that’s going to be enough.”
He was considered a long shot to turn pro this season at the beginning of camp, but he’s grown more at ease working with NHL coaches and players each day that he’s stuck around.
“While the stakes are higher, I’m getting more comfortable with each day,” Carrick said. “I’d say today was the most comfortable I felt on the ice. You learn the practices, the drills. Just little things, what guys do in practice, that’s the difference between making a good pass and messing it up and getting yelled by Coach Oates.”
Latta will also have friendly faces in the stands. He texted his family this morning when he found out he would be in the lineup and they’re making the roughly nine hour drive from Waterloo, Ontario, to see his debut.
>> Eric Fehr had the strongest preseason of any player in the lineup, and tonight he’ll see time as third-line center between Jason Chimera and Ward. Both Fehr and Erat saw time at center during the preseason, but given the Winnipeg native’s performance during camp, he was rewarded with the possibility of more ice time.
“Eric and Marty, they both got a couple looks there. Not that one did better, we just felt that Fehrsie had a great camp,” Oates said. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence and we’ll give him a shot there.”
While Tuesday is the season opener, the Capitals may continue to tinker with line combinations over the next several games and weeks especially now that they have their full complement of players.
“We have a tough spot finding minutes for certain guys right now and I think the balance today is just it’s one game,” Oates said. “We’ve got to try and figure things out. Brooksie’s back so that affects things and the trickle down in the lineup.”
>> Based on the morning skate, here’s what the Capitals and Blackhawks lineups should look like.
Holtby will start, Neuvirth as backup.
Scratches: Jay Beagle, Aaron Volpatti and Steve Oleksy.
Crawford will start, Khabibulin as backup.
Greenberg: Is so much youth a bad thing for Caps?