WASHINGTON -- After years of carrying the weight of unfulfilled expectations on their shoulders, Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals traded it in for the weight of the actual Stanley Cup, which they paraded around the Las Vegas ice after a 4-3 win in Game 5 of the finals in June.
On Wednesday night, the Capitals will raise a banner to the Capital One Arena rafters and begin their title defense against the Boston Bruins.
While their roster is mostly unchanged, new head coach Todd Reirden will make his debut. After four years as Barry Trotz's top assistant, Reirden ascended when Trotz stepped down and ultimately took the New York Islanders' top job.
Ovechkin, who recently turned 33, scored 87 points (49 goals) in the regular season and added 27 points (15 goals) in 24 postseason games as he finally put to rest the questions about his ability to lead a team to the Cup.
"It looks like he's in the best mode ever," center Nicklas Backstrom told the Washington Post. "He's just laughing all the time, which is great. He's going to carry this over, I think."
Washington will likely open without top-line winger Tom Wilson, who was ejected from Sunday's preseason finale against the St. Louis Blues for an illegal check on Oskar Sundqvist, who lay motionless before being helped from the ice. Wilson was slated for an in-person hearing with the NHL's Department of Player Safety on Wednesday.
Wilson's absence combined with several injuries led the Capitals to claim forward Dmitrij Jaskin off waivers from the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday. Jaskin, 25, totaled six goals and 11 assists in 76 games last season.
"We like the player," general manager Brian MacLellan told the Washington Post. "We think the player has some upside and with the possible suspension of Tom we're adding a big body that can make some plays and go to the net and has a similar skill set as Tom."
Washington has won 12 straight regular-season games in four seasons against Boston.
After starting 6-7-4 last season, the Bruins soared to a 50-20-12 record, good for second place in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference. They defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games in the first round but fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Bruins' success was a bit ahead of schedule as they boast one of the youngest rosters in the league.
Boston will be missing a key player in the opener as well. Defenseman Torey Krug injured his left ankle in the final preseason game. He's in a walking boot and will be evaluated in three weeks. Krug had 59 points (14 goals, 45 assists) in 76 games last season.
"It's a big loss," center Patrice Bergeron told the Boston Herald. "He's a huge part of our defense, power play as well. He's the quarterback up there. We're going to miss him. That being said, it's an opportunity for someone else to step up and be good for us."