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Capitals set to debut Trotz against Canadiens

Oct 9, 2014 - 3:01 PM (SportsNetwork.com) - The Washington Capitals begin the Barry Trotz era Thursday, as they open their 2014-15 schedule by hosting the Montreal Canadiens at Verizon Center.

After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007, and by just three points, the Capitals shook things up again by not renewing the contract of general manager George McPhee and firing head coach Adam Oates. It wasn't a total makeover as Washington stayed within to replace McPhee by promoting Brian MacLellan from his assistant general manager role, while Oates was canned after two seasons and replaced with the respected Trotz.

The Capitals are banking that Trotz is finally the defensive mind that the franchise needs and scooped him up after his 15-year run as coach of the Nashville Predators came to an end. Defense and Trotz went hand-and-hand in Nashville as the club always seemed to find a way into the playoffs despite missing the kind of explosive offense that fuels the Capitals.

It will be interesting to see how Trotz handles a player like Alexander Ovechkin, an offensive talent that has won the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league's leading goal scorer four times but finished last season at minus-35, third-worst in the league.

Washington has seemingly struggled for season after season trying to improve its defense and only had a goal differential of minus-5 last season, but that meant little after the club just missed out on a playoff spot.

The Capitals' defensive group saw the addition of one of the top free agent blueliners of this past offseason, Matt Niskanen, who signed with Washington for seven years and $40.25 million. MacLellan also gave Trotz a gritty veteran piece at the blue line in Brooks Orpik, who should have a tough time living up to his five-year, $27.5 million deal.

While Niskanen and Orpik will debut tonight for the Caps, fellow defenseman Mike Green expects to be a game-time decision for Washington due to an upper- body injury.

Braden Holtby expects to get the start in net tonight and the 25-year-old goaltender could be one of the biggest benefactors of the coaching change. Holtby struggled when Oates had him change his positioning and game plan between the pipes and that led to his goals against average rising from 2.58 the previous season to 2.85 in 2013-14.

Holtby went 2-0 in two games against the Canadiens last season and is 5-0 with a 0.98 GAA in five career outings versus Montreal.

The Caps won two of three against Montreal last season and have taken four of five and 10 of the past 12 meetings. The Canadiens have dropped eight of their last 12 games in D.C.

The Canadiens are beginning the season on a four-game road trip and were able to pick up a win in Wednesday's opener in Toronto. Tomas Plekanec had two goals, including the game-winner off a defenseman's skate with 42.9 seconds remaining that gave the Habs a 4-3 win over the rival Maple Leafs.

"We played the game that we wanted to in the offensive zone, and we're happy about the win," said Plekanec. "Obviously, it was the first game of the season in Toronto. We're happy we were able to come away with the two points,"

Montreal, which lost to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals last spring, snapped a four-year losing streak to the Maple Leafs in season- openers.

P.A. Parenteau notched two assists in his Montreal debut after coming over from Colorado during the offseason in exchange for fellow forward Danny Briere. Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban each posted a goal in the victory and Alexei Emelin also chipped in two assists.

Carey Price stopped 24 shots for the win, but will get Thursday night off as backup Dustin Tokarski gets his first start of the season. Tokarski took over the reins for Price in last year's conference finals when Price went down with a season-ending knee injury and did a superb job of keeping Montreal in the series even if New York went on to win the set in six games.

Tokarski was a surprise replacement for Price in the playoffs since it was Peter Budaj who was listed as No. 2 on the depth chart at the time of the injury. Budaj saw action in 24 regular season games in 2013-14 compared to only three appearances for the 25-year-old Tokarski. However, Montreal traded Budaj to Winnipeg before the start of the season, clearing the way for Tokarski to take over the backup role.

The Canadiens will continue their season-opening trek Saturday in Philadelphia before closing the swing Monday in Tampa. Montreal will play its first home game next Thursday against the Boston Bruins.