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NHL Preview from The Sports Network



Wednesday, October 5th (All times eastern)

Columbus Blue Jackets (0-0-0) at Washington Capitals (0-0-0), 7 p.m.

(Sports Network) - The National Hockey League's other phenomenal rookie makes his debut tonight when the Washington Capitals host the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2005-06 season opener at the MCI Center.

Alexander Ovechkin was the first-overall selection in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, but he has been widely overshadowed due to the lockout and the presence of '05 No. 1 Sidney Crosby.

Ovechkin has spent the past four seasons playing with Moscow Dynamo in Russia. He tallied 13 goals and 14 assists in 37 games during the 04-05 season, and decided against playing in Russia in exchange for NHL action. He opted out of a lucrative deal with Avangard Omsk to skate for the Caps.

The Capitals have little else up front in terms of starpower. Veteran center Andrew Cassels was signed over the summer, while Jeff Friesen was obtained from New Jersey during training camp. Jaromir Jagr, Peter Bondra and Steve Konowalchuk, who were all traded during the team's 2004 firesale, are gone.

Washington's defense corps is in even worse shape, as Brendan Witt is the only player with legitimate NHL experience in the group.

As for goaltending, Olaf Kolzig is a former Vezina winner, but he is now 35 years old and has no proven defense in front of him. The 6-3, 225-pounder still should be able to steal a few games for the Caps, but don't expect a whole lot. He started 63 games in 03-04, going 19-35-9 with a 2.89 goals- against average.

Washington went 2-4-2 in the preseason.

Columbus, meanwhile, enters its fifth season of existence and remains in search of its first playoff berth. The team has two blue-chip youngsters in Rick Nash and Nikolai Zherdev, and other draft picks on their way up. This past offseason was spent bolstering the defense with the addition of veterans Adam Foote and Bryan Berard.

Nash was the first-overall selection in the 2002 Draft, and he is already a star. The rugged power forward jumped from 17 goals to 41 in his first two seasons, tying Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk and Calgary's Jarome Iginla for the Maurice Richard Trophy in 03-04. The kid is only going to get better, especially on the power play, where he potted 19 of his tallies last time out.

The hope is that Nash will have some help in the goal-scoring department. He accounted for 23.2 percent of Columbus' goal production in 03-04, which was the highest percentage in the league.

The Blue Jackets went 3-6-0 during exhibition play.

Washington won its lone meeting with Columbus during the 03-04 season, and the Caps are 4-0-1 in the last five clashes.

10/05 10:27:35 ET

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