The Washington Capitals have learned their 2014-15 regular-season schedule, announced Sunday afternoon by the NHL. It begins on Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. versus Montreal at Verizon Center and includes four home contests over the first five games.
The 82-game slate also features the Jan. 1, 2015 Winter Classic at 1 p.m. versus Chicago. The location for the annual outdoor game appears to be Nationals Park, though sources have indicated that the NHL and the Nationals organization are currently finalizing negotiations to use the stadium. One individual with knowledge of the situation expected the formal announcement to come in mid-July, after the league awards ceremony, NHL draft and free agency have all wrapped up. This marks Washington’s second participation in the Winter Classic after beating Pittsburgh 3-1 at Heinz Field in 2011, though the matchup represents a stark departure from the league’s tradition of scheduling natural rivalries for the event.
“I think the more we went down the path with the league about opponent, the more we were confident that this event is going to be a big deal in Washington and we can stand on our own,” assistant GM Don Fishman said in an interview with Monumental Network. “The Chicago Blackhawks are a great draw nationally, they’re going to be a great name locally, and I think it’s a perfect choice for the league. The Blackhawks, they didn’t win the Stanley Cup trophy this season, but they’re a high-profile, original-six team. I think this game’s doing to very well nationally and locally. That was the key here. A Pittsburgh-Washington matchup or a Philly-Washington matchup is maybe a good draw locally, but maybe not as much nationally.”
After hosting the Canadiens, runners-up to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference last season, the Capitals briefly hit the road on Oct. 11 at Boston before hosting San Jose, New Jersey and Florida in mid-October. Their longest road trip is scheduled for February a four-game swing at San Jose (Feb. 11), Los Angeles (Feb. 14), Anaheim (Feb. 15) and Pittsburgh (Feb. 17). Washington has 16 back-to-backs scheduled, compared to 14 last season, and has a five-game home stretch from March 5-15 against Minnesota (March 5), Buffalo (March 7), Rangers (March 11), Dallas (March 13) and Boston (March 15). The Capitals also have 12 one-game road trips, compared to 11ast season.
“We’re lucky, the last few years, we haven’t had the arena blocked out do we have to do a six-, seven-game road trip,” Fishman said. “That said, we wanted to encourage more two-to-three-game road trips, get fewer of these one-off road trips. That was by design. We wanted to get true road trips. I think we did that. I hope it goes well, win-loss wise, then when the team’s home, the team’s home for some short homestands.”
The Capitals finished the 2013-14 season with a 38-30-14 record, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07. As a result, the organization declined to renew the contract of general manager George McPhee, replacing him with longtime assistant GM Brian MacPhellan, and fired head coach Adam Oates, luring veteran Barry Trotz to the bench after he was dismissed by Nashville. They hold the No. 13 overall pick in next weekend’s NHL draft and, with free agency looming not far ahead, have targeted an upgraded blue-line and veteran backup goaltender as key targets this offseason.
Trotz, the first head coach with NHL experience hired by Washington since 1997, will face his old Predators squad on March 28 at Verizon Center and will visit them on Jan. 16.
“That”s the fun of the league’s new alignment,” Fishman said. “You get to play every team at least once, as it should be. It’d be a shame if Barry didn’t get to play Nashville twice this year, when it ‘ll obviously be really meaningful for him to go home.”
In an 11-day February stretch, the Capitals also face the Stanley Cup-champion Kings twice, hosting them on Feb. 3 and visiting them during the aforementioned West Coast sojourn.
Washington closes the regular season with consecutive home games versus Boston (April 8) and reigning Eastern Conference champions New York on April 11,. the final day of the NHL’s regular season, on which all 30 teams will play. The Capitals meet the Rangers just once until March 11 before squaring off three times in the final 15 games. Eleven of Washington’s last 19 games are at home.
“The arena [Verizon Center] is always booked for the circus in March, and frequently is booked for the NCAA basketball tournament or a college basketball tournament,” Fishman said. “Frequently the team was on the road in March. This year’s a little different. We only have the circus at the arena, so we ended up with nine home games in March. Don’t want nine home games every year, but it’ll be fun for a change. The team’s going to be home a lot in the spring. Hopefully we’re right in the hunt and we’re going to love those home games come March.”
Other items of note, per a team press release, includes a Feb. 1 game at Verizon Center versus St. Louis, the seventh straight Super Bowl Sunday game for the Capitals, a day-after-Thanksgiving home date with the Islanders and nearly half of the 41 home games falling on weekends — “four games on Friday, nine on Saturday and six on Sunday.” According to the team, television assignments will be released at a later time.
The full schedule, screenshot from NHL.com, is below: