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NHL Preview from The Sports Network



Thursday, October 9th (All times eastern)

New York Islanders (0-0-0-0) at Washington Capitals (0-0-0-0), 7 p.m.

(Sports Network) - The Washington Capitals try to keep their hold on the New York Islanders tonight when the teams meet at the MCI Center in the opener for both clubs.

Washington is 23-1-3 in the last 27 contests against New York, including a 4-0 mark last season. The Caps are 12-0-2 in the last 14 meetings played in our Nation's Capital.

The Capitals are coming off a season in which they returned to the postseason only to fall in the first round to Southeast Division champion Tampa Bay. Washington, under rookie coach Bruce Cassidy, went up 2-0 on the Lightning before dropping four straight.

Washington owner Ted Leonsis, sick of seeing little return on his investment, sliced the team's budget this summer after spending big money on players like Jaromir Jagr and Robert Lang in recent years. The club even, without success, tried to move both players.

Jagr, Peter Bondra, Lang and the like return to form a very solid nucleus of forwards, and Olaf Kolzig is a given in net so long as he is healthy. The defense, however, is what has been most affected by Leonsis' frugal ways. With the offseason departures of Calle Johansson (retired) and Ken Klee (free agency), the Caps are left with only two blueliners with more than a year's worth of NHL experience -- Sergei Gonchar and Brendan Witt.

Below the veteran duo on the depth chart are names like Jason Doig, Steve Eminger and Josef Boumedienne. Eminger, the 12th overall pick last year, is the most notable of the bunch. The Ontario native appeared in 17 games for the Capitals last season before being returned to his Junior team in Kitchener (WHL) for more seasoning. Eminger could be an offensive threat to complement Gonchar, but he is also physical and responsible in his own end.

New York, meanwhile, enters the regular campaign after a 7-0 march through the preseason under new head coach Steve Stirling. Stirling, who has installed a trap system on the Island, entered the mix when Peter Laviolette was fired this past offseason and has been a member of the Isles organization since 1997. His last job was as the team's AHL coach in Bridgeport.

A large key to the Isles' success will be their goaltending situation, which will open the season as a platoon. Both veteran Garth Snow and former No. 1 pick Rick DiPietro will see time in net, with Snow receiving the nod tonight.

In front of the crease New York has the luxury of one of the premier defense corps in the NHL, especially the top four. With the exception of the quartet in Detroit, it's tough to find a better and harder-working foursome than Adrian Aucoin, Kenny Jonsson, Roman Hamrlik and Janne Niinimaa.

Offensively the Islanders' tone is set by captain Michael Peca and center Alexei Yashin, who both seek rebound seasons. Peca, who returned on a regular basis in the middle of November, was coming back from a major knee surgery and a shoulder operation. He scored just 13 goals and had 42 points in his 66 games, wearing down at the end as a result of rushing his rehab and return to the lineup.

Yashin, meanwhile, scored 26 goals with 39 assists to give him his lowest career point total during a healthy season.

The Islanders have not defeated the Capitals in DC since March 2, 1997.

10/09 10:26:32 ET

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