When the NHL schedule came out over the summer, the Capitals game tonight against the Edmonton Oilers had all the makings of a look-ahead game.
Coming off surprisingly easy wins over the Flyers and Red Wings no one would have been surprised if the Capitals were guilty of peeking ahead to Saturday nights clash against the Vancouver Canucks, who fell one win short of a Stanley Cup last spring.
But these Oilers are hardly speed bump material, even though the Caps disposed of them 5-0 in their visit to Washington last March.
In fact, the Oilers are off to a 4-2-2 start and have been energized by the dynamic line of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 18, Taylor Hall, 19, and Jordan Eberle, 21. The Card Them At The Door line has combined for 22 points in eight games, which is more than the rest of their teammates combined.
Its going to be fun and a huge test for us, said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who will be making just his third career appearance in Edmonton. Edmontons a young team and we just have to have fun with it.
Nugent-Hopkins might be the most pleasant surprise of the NHLs young season. Taken first overall in the 2011 NHL draft, Nugent-Hopkins leads all rookies with eight points in eight games. The Oilers have until Fridays Game 10 in Colorado to decide whether they should keep Nugent-Hopkins on their roster, which would activate his three-year, entry-level contract.
Hes made that decision academic.
Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner grew up with Nugent-Hopkins older brother, Adam, in Burnaby, British Columbia and remembers the younger Nugent-Hopkins tearing up the local youth hockey leagues.
When I was a bantam he was an atom, Alzner recalled. He was a really small kid. I didnt see him for three or four years and when he came back one summer I couldnt believe how big he was. I was very impressed.
Now 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, Nugent-Hopkins has passed every physical test that has been presented to him in his first three weeks as a pro.
Hes been pretty impressive, Alzner said. I know some people said he was not strong enough, not mature physically enough. But look where he is now.